Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Too bad if you have a long, winding South Indian name

Yet another action packed weekend in Mumbai, full of fun, frolic and introspection. I have learnt many things. For example having money when none of your friends have any is as good as not having any. And after spending much time in movie theatres, cafes and restaurants I have gathered many insights into the endless monotony that is the love life of South Indian men. What I have unearthed is most disheartening!Disheartening because comprehension of these truths will not change our status anytime soon. However there is also cause for joy. We never stood a chance anyway. What loads the dice against virile, gallant, well educated, good looking, sincere Mallus and Tams? (Kadus were once among us, but Bangalore has changed all that.)

Our futures are shot to hell as soon as our parents bestow upon us names that are anything but alluring. I cannot imagine a more foolproof way of making sure the child remains single till classified advertisements or that maternal uncle in San Francisco thinks otherwise. Name him "Parthasarathy Venkatachalapthy" and his inherent capability to combat celibacy is obliterated before he could even talk. He will grow to be known as Partha. Before he knows, his smart, seductively named northy classmates start calling him Paratha. No woman in their right minds will go anyway near poor Parthasarathy. His investment banking job doesn't help either. His employer loves him though. He has no personal life you see.

By this time the Sanjay Singhs and Bobby Khans from his class have small businesses of their own and spend 60% of their lives in discos and pubs. The remaining 40% is spent coochicooing with leather and denim clad muses in their penthouse flats on Nepean Sea Road. Business is safely in the hands of the Mallu manager. After all with a name like Blossom Babykutty he cant use his 30000 salary anywhere. Blossom gave up on society when in school they automatically enrolled him for Cookery Classes. Along with all the girls!

Yes my dear reader, nomenclature is the first nail in a coffin of neglect and hormonal pandemonium. In a kinder world they would just name the poor southern male child and throw him off the balcony. "Yes appa we have named him Goundamani..." THUD.

Life would have been less kinder to him anyway. If all the women the Upadhyays, Kumars, Pintos and, god forbid, the Sens and Roys in the world have met were distributed amongst the Arunkumars, Vadukuts and Chandramogans we would all be merry Casanovas with 3 to 4 pretty things at each arm. But alas it is not to be. Of course the south Indian women have no such issues. They have names which are like sweet poetry to the ravenous northie hormone tanks. Picture this: "Welcome, and this is my family. This is my daughter Poorni (what a sweet name!!) and my son Ponnalagusamy (er.. hello..).." Cyanide would not be fast enough for poor Samy. Nothing Samy does will help him. He can pump iron, drive fast cars and wear snazzy clothes, but against a brain dead dude called Arjun Singhania he has as much chance of getting any as a Benedictine Monk in a Saharan Seminary.

Couple this with the other failures that have plagued our existence. Any attempt at spiking hair with gel fails miserably. In an hour I have a crown of greasy, smelly fibrous mush. My night ends there. However the northy just has to scream "Wakaw!!!" and you have to peel the women off him to let him breathe. In a disco while we can manage the medium hip shake with neck curls, once the Bhangra starts pumping we are as fluid as cement and gravel in a mixer. Karan Kapoor or Jatin Thapar in the low cut jeans with chaddi strap showing and see through shirt throws his elbows perfectly, the cynosure of all attention. The women love a man who digs pasta and fondue. But why do they not see the simple pleasures of curd rice and coconut chutney? When poor Senthilnathan opens his tiffin box in the office lunch room his female coworkers just disappear when they see the tamarind rice and poppadums. The have all rematerialised around Bobby Singh who has ordered a Pizza and Garlic bread. (And they have the gall to talk of foreign origin.)

How can a man like me brought up in roomy lungis and oversized polyester shirts ever walk the walk in painted on jeans (that makes a big impression) and neon yellow rib hugging t shirts? All I can do is don my worn "comfort fit" jeans and floral shirt. Which is pretty low on the "Look at me lady" scale, just above fig leaf skirt and feather headgear a la caveman, and a mite below Khakhi Shirt over a red t shirt and baggy khakhi pants and white trainers a la Rajni in "Badsha".

Sociologically too the Tam or Mallu man is severely sidelined. An average tam stud stays in a house with, on average, three grandparents, three sets of uncles and aunts, and over 10 children. Not the ideal atmosphere for some intimacy and some full throated "WHOSE YOUR DADDY!!!" at the 3 in the morning. The Mallu guy of course is almost always in the gulf working alone on some onshore oil rig in the desert. Rheumatic elbows me thinks! Alas dear friends we are not just meant to set the nights on fire. We are just not built to be "The Ladies Man". The black man has hip hop, the white man has rock, the southie guy only has idlis and tomato rasam or an NRI account in South Indian Bank Ernakulam Branch.

Alas as our destiny was determined in one fell swoop by our nomenclature, so will our future be. A nice arranged little love story. But the agony of course does not end there. On the first night, as the stud sits on his bed finally within touching distance and whispers his sweet desires into her delectable ear, she blushes, turns around and whispers back "But Amma has said only on second Saturdays..."


Praveen Swami
Chief of Bureau
Frontline Magazine
New Delhi

A chat with noted Indian writer Ruskin Bond

With thick-rimmed spectacles that rest on a bulbous nose, he could well be the affable granddad next door. He even has a paunch, maybe filled with several untold tales. Few would imagine him to be a prolific writer with nearly 70 titles to his credit, ones that still sell and enthuse. But that is how Ruskin Bond is – not an overnight literary sensation but a writer who fought odds since his teens to remain a writer and succeeded.

There have obviously been the cons, including, as he claimed, not being married. “I only started earning sufficient money in my 30s and 40s,” Bond said. “Now, when I look up the matrimonial columns, they are only seeking a Goyal or an Agarwal. Nobody wants to marry a writer,” he joked. For he does not mind his celibacy. “I have a family of 13 without a marriage,” Bond adds, referring to his adopted family that lives with him in his flat in Mussorie.

The writer is currently travelling to various places, including Jaipur, to promote his latest titles with Rupa & Co. “I have believed that writers should be read more than they are seen or heard but things are changing with the visual media,” he said. His latest book is titled “The India I Love”, a compilation of essays and poems. The 70-year-old’s next book, named for the moment “Ways to Mussorie”, is based on life in the hill station. His “Blue Umbrella” is also being made into a children’s film by Vishal Bharadwaj.

Crediting Harry Potter with putting children’s writing on the map, Bond said that writing for children requires one to not “self-indulgent” and “fairly disciplined”. “Adults would give you a second chance and read a few chapters but a child won’t” said he, who has grown up with books like “Alice In Wonderland” and “Peter Pan”.

Queried what his epitaph could read like, Bond replied that he had not thought of one yet. But he did recollect one that he had written for his uncle James Bond, who was a dentist. It read, “Stranger, approach this spot with gravity. James Bond his filling his last cavity.” That is Ruskin bond for us – immortally enchanting and jovial.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Language barrier

Reluctant publishers, translation difficulties and tired preconceptions have all hampered the progress of Arabic literature in the west, says Brian Whitaker

The Guardian
September 23, 2004

If you've got something to say, say it in English. Other languages really don't count any more.

Thanks to the old British empire and today's US pre-eminence, English has become the international language of business, technology, diplomacy - and the world's most celebrated writers.

Literary stardom "reflects only the ability of a writer or a book to make an impression on the most profitable areas of the world market," Pierre Lepape, the French author and critic, wrote in Le Monde Diplomatique earlier this year.

"An author might win the Nobel prize and be translated into 30 languages, but his or her work does not qualify as world literature until it is piled high on a prominent table in a Barnes & Noble megastore."

The world market in books is dominated by the US. US publishers and literary agents, together with many of their British counterparts, maximise revenue and profits by promoting star authors who, these days, are often celebrities rather than professional writers.

Meanwhile, authors from the rest of the world, with names that are unfamiliar - and sometimes unpronouncable to English speakers - scarcely get a look in.

Only 2.8% of the books published in the US are translations from other languages, and no translated book has reached the US bestseller lists for years. The figure for Britain is only marginally higher, standing at 3%.

Amid the general reluctance to translate foreign languages into English, books originally written in Arabic seem especially out of favour. Even in Germany, where translations account for 40% of published fiction, less than 0.3 % of those books are by authors from the Arab world.

This is somewhat surprising, partly because Arabic, with around 186 million native speakers, is the world's sixth major language, but also because of the enormous political and military attention focused on the Middle East and the way in which the region dominates news coverage day after day, year after year.

It is probably fair to say that the average well-educated American or Briton has never read any Arabic literature in translation. If pushed to name an Arab writer, they might - after some head-scratching - come up with Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel winner, or Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese mystic...


Thursday, September 23, 2004

"Slap in the face of sanity"

Muslim groups in the UK have termed the deportation of Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) as a "slap in the face of sanity". The once popular singer was recently booted out from the US after the officials realised he was on a "watch list" comprising people engaged in activities that could be linked to terrorism.

Stevens converted to Islam in the late 1970s after hits such as Wild World and Morning Has Broken. He has set up a charity for aiding persons on Bosnia, Iraq and Kosovo.

This is not the first time that Islam has been deported. He met with the same fate in Israel in December 200o after allegations that he was involved in raising money for the militant Hamas group. He also publicly supported Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his book - The Satanic Verses.

UK has registered a formal protest with the US. Just, what do you say?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Three cheers for Iranian bloggers

Iranian bloggers worldwide have protested en masse against the censorship of some "reformist" journals in Iran. They have named their sites after those that have been banned by the government. It began as an effort by Toronto-based Hossein Derakhshan and has picked up momentum. It's aimed at showing the government that censoring the Internet is not as convenient as other media. I am on their side...

The kitsch and concrete crisis in Tehran

The Daily Star ran a report by AFP on its pages on the growing trend of favouring "modern" architecture instead of the traditional Persian style. Some haven't taken very well to this latest show of richness. Maryam Kowsar, a Tehran-based architect, has been quoted and says, "They (the new buildings) look like prostitutes - suggestive, sleazy and loud."

The report also uses the prostitution/pornography analogy.

"Take one building that recently sprung up in swanky north Tehran: it has a facade of columns that point to inspiration from either Greco-Roman grandiosity or the ancient Persian city of Persepolis. But it also has a Chinese-style mock rock garden made of polystyrene out front, matched with electric blue neon lights that light up the rose-colored marble facade and reflective windows. If pornography was an architectural concept, this would be it."

Unfortunate, but I guess it's natural "progression".

Monday, September 20, 2004

Blog power for theocratic Iran

Meet Hossein Derakhshan, probably one of the most dynamic bloggers at the forefront of the Iranian blogging revolution. Based in Canada since 2000, he has been liasing with Iranian bloggers worldwide and poses a credible opposition to the Islamic government in Iran. This Magazine has an interview with Derakshan on the threat of blogging to Iran and the threat of the hardliners to the Internet in Iran.

You must also see his photo blog.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

"Little Terrorist" and the Oscar that could be

A story that gripped the Indian media earlier is now turning heads in the international film festival circuit. “Little Terrorist”, a short film inspired by Munir, the 13-year-old boy who strayed across from Pakistan to Rajasthan in 2003, has won the top award in the short film category at the Festival des Films du Monde in Montreal in the first week of September.

It was shot in Boraj, near Jaipur, earlier this year. Having been also screened at the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films in the US and the London International Film Festival, it is reported to be the first Indian short film to qualify for the Academy Awards.

But Ashvin Kumar, the director of the film, is not “losing any sleep” over the Oscar. “The odds of winning something like the Oscar are quite slim. I’ve only gone past the first round of qualification. Dilli dur aast,” he said in an email interview from London, where he is based. The script was completed in “a day or so” after Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was the PM then, decided to send Munir back home. With Swiss cameraman Markus Huersch, the 15-minute film was shot in about five days and features Salim, a street-child with the Salaam Baalak Trust, in the lead role.

“The film is at once universal and humanitarian. After 15 minutes you feel that you’ve actually spent time with these people,” wrote Kumar. “All the departments have worked together on a shoe-string budget to create a polished piece of work,” he added. Efforts are on to get Indian broadcasters and specialty-fare theatres to screen it.

A “dedicated fan” of Iranian filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Kumar felt that children are less conscious on screen. “Adults, specially professionals, want to give a performance and have to be stripped down to their bare essence. In a kid, it’s already there,” he said. Kumar is currently working on a “cracking movie, the likes of which has not been seen in India”. Provisionally titled “The Forest”, the plot involves three people in the jungle with “a lot of suspense, thrills and spills”.

Even his earlier film “Road to Ladakh” is being made into a feature film with Irfan Khan acting against an American star. “A film should have some kind of human or social resonance. It should delve in complex yet sympathetic characters that an audience can relate to and of course tell a good story around them,” said.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The ugly side of Iranian cinema

Though most outside will rave about the beauty of Iranian films, few would have any idea about the kind of censorship Iranian filmmakers have to go through. Jafar Panahi, maker of fabulous films such as "The Circle" and "The White Balloon", has now decided to actually go around the country showcasing his films.

Abbas Kiarostami, another famed filmmaker, was harassed so much by the censors for his film "Ten" that he joked of cutting his film's name to "Six". Most of these films are available on pirated discs, which means the maker gets little, if any, money out of his films in the local market. Yet, they want to fight it out. May they be victorious... Read more here.