Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A trip in Paris metro

This is from the notes I wrote during my travels around Europe this July (Pictures here). A previous note is here.

I am in Paris Metro. I am traveling. I have nothing else to do - nobody telling me where to go, nobody telling me what to do. I have a map, I have a list of places, I have several days, plenty of water, very little money and my friend’s metro pass. I am using it because he’s in office during the day and a day’s pass cost around 8 Euros, i.e 80 Euros for the 10 days I’ll be in Paris, which I want to save. With the pass, I can travel any number of times by Metro, Bus and Tram. Not really a great thing for someone who doesn’t know where he’s going.

I am not in a bad mood, I just ate a couple of croissants and had two cafes from real cafes, which, though expensive, had given me some energy and mood. In fact, I was in no worse mood than someone who doesnt know what to do in the next 10 minutes. I look at my map, and decide on some spot to visit. I have around thirty minutes more to stay here, before getting out. I decide to watch around, to pass time.

I am sitting in a 2x2, two seats facing the direction of the train – including the one on which I am sitting and two in the opposite direction. In front of me, it’s an old African lady sitting. By African, I mean – African ethnicity. To her right, it is a beautiful, made up girl who looks Arabic. She has strawberry patterns on her shoes, a pink bag and a huge make-up box she has just bought from some mall in La Défense. On my right, it is a blond reading a magazine on Astronomy. Her hair is undone and she has a great figure. I cannot see her face, for the Astronomy magazine that hides it.

The train stops somewhere. The blond sitting near me gets out. The African old one moves over - she probably wants to sit in the direction of the train.

I get bored and look further. I see an old fat French lady sitting with another, talking, while pointing to her big stomach. What about the big stomach? What will old fat ladies have to talk about big stomachs? That her stomach is upset? Or that it is obstructing sex? Or that her lover hates it?

A new mother – French, with a great figure surprising for a new mother – is standing with her short husband, who’s holding the baby. They seem happy. The husband points at the make-up box of the Arab girl, and says something to his wife, with a smile. The old fat lady looks at me, but rushes her eyes off when I look back. The African one gets out at the next stop. A white “gentleman” in a dark suit moves in, busy checking his blackberry. We reach next stop, he moves out, an African man who looks like Bob Marley, and another blond, with a huge sac like leather bag and a huge hand bag, gets in. She is carelessly dressed, part of her clothes lean over one of her breasts, uncovering the other in plenty. She opens the bag, I peek inside with her. I can see a cigarette packet. She reaches for her iPod and puts it on. I can hear an English song playing. She takes out some train tickets. One of them is to London St. Pancras. She must be getting down at Gare du Nord, the gare from which trains leave for London.

An Indian guy comes in, chewing something. I think it must be bubble gum, but soon sees his red teeth and tongue and realizes it is paan. He stares hard at the blond. So does the French guy sitting in the next seat. She doesnt seem to notice. She is busy with her cell phone.

I reach my station. I walk out. I cross the Chinese guy with the hair of a porcupine, and an Arab girl, and walk fast.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Custody

Read Anita Desai's In Custody. Its about the life of Deven - a Hindi lecturer in a small college in a small North Indian town. He is passionate about poetry, especially in appreciating Urdu poetry, but is a weak person, and considers himself a failure in almost everything else. The town is dusty, hot and ugly, he leads a loveless life with drooping, thin, disappointed wife. He hates his classes, he is paid badly. But one day, his school friend, publisher of a small Urdu literary magazine in Delhi, visits him, asking him to interview a great Urdu poet (Nur), who has fallen into tough times. Following this is the story of Deven trying to get this done, involving in an enterprise that looks like a romantic dream from outside- meeting and talking to the great poet himself, publishing an interview which takes notice of the Urdu literary academia - "even in places like Jamia Millia and Aligarh Muslim University" - brings him a break out of the monotonous, sad life, and some money and a confirmation at his lecture position. But for such an enterprise to work, it takes a lot more than mere love of poetry, and a weak person like Deven is utterly unfit to do such a task. I'll leave the story there.

The book brought into me the forgotten world of Urdu literature in India (which "died in 1947"), and of Old Delhi, with several Muslims drinking alcohol, eating biriyanis, enjoying dance, music and poetry, their contempt for Hindi poetry of Pant and Nirala... "Safe, simple Hindi language, safe comfortable ideas of cow worship and caste and romance of Krishna". Here's sample Hindi mock-poetry:
Sun, moon, stars, sky,
Planets, clouds, comets, I,
God made them all as he made me,
A star too I must be.

Butter, milk, curds, ghee,
Sweets, drinks, food for me -
God made them all and God made me,
Butterballs all, butterball me.
Lack of money. Lack of interest in teaching. Lack of interest in talking to one's own kid. Pointlessness of teaching and learning Indian languages. Loveless-ness. And even when there is some love, the ego and the power relation that comes in the way of expressing. Of weak persons, whose weakness brings them shame from everyone - their kids, their friends, even people who want to help them.

After finishing the book, I found out that a movie has been made of it by Ismael Merchant, and a good torrent is available online. I downloaded the movie, and glimpsed through it. But, what's with movies made out of the book? Why do they need to twist the characters so much, to break all the images you have deep in your mind? Is it because in the movie the characters are defined a lot faster and with a lot more precision, while the book gives you space to imagine, or is it because it is actually very different in the movie from the book? Anyway, you get a very different idea of characters from the movie. For example, in the book, the wife of Deven is drooping, thin and ugly dressed, with a sad face, always angry with him. But in the movie, you have a nice looking compassionate housewife. In the book, the events at Nur's house when his wife is in concert is totally different from the movie, which can be seen in this video. And, it is Shabana Asmi, how beautiful is she!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


If you are intensely aware of what is happening in your immediate environment, about who is looking at you and what is in their minds, about the thoughts people have in their mind when you talk to them, when you notice their reactions to each word you say and each gesture your face makes, AND you are a nice person, that is, one with a weak, sensitive heart, then: you are bound to suffer. You are bound to end up sad pretty much most of the time. Au contraire, you can look forward to getting a sense of true happiness, that is, most of the time you feel that the person to whom you are talking is smiling, he or she is indeed smiling in his or her heart and is not faking it, and you can take pride in the sincerity of this happiness. Similarly, when someone cries, you can cry with them.

If you are aware of what is happening in your immediate environment, about who is looking at you and what is in their minds, about the thoughts people have in their mind when you talk to them, when you notice their reactions to each word you say and each gesture your face makes, AND you are an asshole, consider joining marketing, or at least politics, or business. You are bound to thrive. You can also create some new “diseases” for the people of the type belonging to the previous paragraph (like manic-depressive personality syndrome, attention deficiency syndrome, lack of confidence syndrome etc), because you can rarely enjoy true happiness and sadness, because you are a manipulator and you are jealous of those who can enjoy true happiness and sadness. But you may be the person who will be labeled as a winner in life.

Now, if you belong to a third type, who is never aware of what is happening around yourself and what others are thinking about you when they talk to you, and even misjudge assholic criticisms and mockery and racism as genuine serious talk and compliments, and think of fake-alibis to avoid you as real alibis, then you will be considered a fool, and you will end up being a fool. But you are almost always going to lead a happy life.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another ranking : Global thinkers

#1. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates
#3. Barack Obama, (PRESIDENT | WASHINGTON)
# 10. Angela Merkel, (CHANCELLOR | GERMANY)
# 11. Michael Bloomberg and Feisal Abdul Rauf, (MAYOR | NEW YORK & IMAM, CORDOBA INITIATIVE | NEW YORK)

This is not a joke.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rankings are a joke

In the freedom of press rankings published by Reporters Sans Frontiers, India comes at 122, just above Zimbabwe. Dictatorships like UAE and Congo, along with a host of other dictatorships, come ahead of us. Saudi Arabia is ahead of Sri Lanka, China and Syria. What a joke, these rankings!!

Speaking for India: India is a country where someone could not become a prime minister because of the huge media cry about "stock markets are plunging, earth is shaking, she cannot be the PM". It is a country where media alleges corruption in the government every single day (while involving in corruption themselves). While most media is heavily biased (to ideologies, at least), and, even while attacks on journalists and newspaper happen at some places, on the whole - criticism is indeed a way of life in Indian media, especially compared to several other countries above India in the list, who do not even know what criticism of the Government even means.

The rankings are indeed a joke.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Best newspaper

Which is the best newspaper in India?

I wish Tehelka was a daily newspaper. But it is not.

So there is only one choice for the answer: The Hindu.

But it is far from being the best. In fact, the newspaper is a follower of freedom of speech only when it suits themselves. That, if we can say newspaper stances are defined by their editors, which I believe is true in this case. N. Ram loves the binary. He loves to create stories of black-and-whiteness, about the great lives people in China, Tibet and Srilankan camps for the Tamils are having. That no one in the establishment of these places can do anything wrong, and if someone reports otherwise, it can only be propaganda.

But the free speech policy of Hindu is visible in its approach to comments in its Internet edition. No comment with any sort of criticism is accepted - I mean extremely civil comments of the type - "your editorial does not consider this aspect of the problem". However, if your comment is of the admiring type, "kudos to The Hindu...", it appears without much delay.

May be its not much of a newspaper policy. May be it is that the guy who moderates the comments is being lazy about it, and rather than cause problems by getting into the detail of what is a right criticism and what is not, he is merely shutting out all criticisms. And perhaps no one else in the newspaper cares about this. And hence may be I am finding a higher truth in something that can be attributed to stupidity.

But whatever be the reason, as an upholder of free speech The Hindu should be most open to criticism, especially civil criticisms, and it is currently not doing it at least in its Internet edition.

Also, observing responses of several newspapers around the world (for eg: towards the recent Wikileaks leak), I feel The Guardian is the best newspaper around.


I know exactly where to go if I land up in Bangalore next time. Or Thrissur. Or Thiruvananthapuram. Or Chennai. Or Kolkata. And several other places in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu.

In Bangalore, it will be the Adayar Ananda Bhavan in BTM.

In Thrissur, it will be the the Pathan's in the "Round", or Swaraj Round, to be official.

In Thiruvananthapuram it is the Arya Nivas near the railway station.

In Chennai it will be Tiffany's in IIT. Or any Saravana Bhavan will do.

In Kolkata, I am talking about a small, nondescript room in some nondescript building in Ulta Danga, where a nice Tamil guy, settled around the place for decades, does the proceedings.

In Coimbatore, Thiruchi, Madurai, Mysore... I can go on.

I am looking for a Masala Dosa. No, not the anagram. The real hot one, with lots of ghee, and soft and fried to the point (and not sharp enough to hurt one's tongue) and with good Sambaar, Chutney and hot vadas for accompaniment.

Its my only dream right now. On a late Sunday morning, when I am hungry, and after having spent months of breakfast on bread, butter and cereals. And looking forward to eating more bread right now.

I wish.