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Friday, September 30, 2005

My Minute-Centimetre of Fame

A few weeks ago I received a call from NDTV requesting me to fill in the empty spaces in one of their talk shows. I had been to one celebrity stuffed show before and was reduced to a shadowy face in the crowd. I wasn't even allowed to wave at the camera like the crowds in cricket matches and also forgot to ask the pre-prepared question thoughtfully provided to me by the producers. I was robbed of my few seconds of fame.

Therefore, I politely declined. Moreover my office is such that I have to be present there even on my funeral. But talk show audiences nowadays seem to be a scarce commodity. They persisted and I again declined. Finally, in a last desperate effort they said that they wanted to interview me on the topic of the show. Someone wanting to interview me? Is there a laryngitis epidemic out there?

I relented. After all I wouldn't need to wave my hands to grab attention. My seconds of fame would perhaps get stretched to a few minutes. But, their scheduled interview timing clashed with my working hours. They offered to shoot somewhere in the vicinity of my workplace (The laryngitis epidemic thing must really be true).

They came, they shot and they left. Promising to inform me about the date and time of the telecast. Made me talk a lot and act a little.

The programme perhaps has already been aired. Neither I, nor anyone that I know saw that show. I might have finally had my few minutes of fame, but I myself didn't notice it. But should I care? Naaah! There are more laryngitis epidemics on the anvil. And I'm enjoying my newfound dial-a-quote status, newspapers quote me somewhere inside the sleazy stories in the city supplements. But they inevitably carry a disclaimer at the end - Some names have been changed to protect identities. There go my few column-centimetres of fame.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

In Defiance of the Alleged Similitude of the Masculine Kind

"All men are the same." How many times have you, my fellow brethren heard this done-unto-death-but-always-rejuvenated banality? Can't count or simply don't care? And she'll say - "Exactly!" Hey, give us a break, girls. We all are not the same, or you'd have not left us for our best friends. But you will counter - "Exactly! You can't blame us; we wandered off unknowingly because we couldn't tell the difference." "And what about your lecherous advances towards our best friends?" Oh! That. Which one are you talking about? The one with thunder thighs or the one with awesome assets? "You men, you all are the same." At least for once can't you girls appreciate our great sense of humour? If not please don't expect us to pretend to be listening to all of your 'she said this and he's going around with her' blabber. It requires a lot of effort.

We can't help if nature has made us testosterone rich. You can't blame us if we are excessively appreciative of god's exquisite creations, especially of the female kind. The essence of beauty after all lies in its appraisal. We appear to be self-centred, but it's only a difference in perception. It's you who say that your happiness lies in ours. We try to keep ourselves happy so that you can remain happy in return.

You whine because you are plain and green jealous. If we try we can be better cooks than you - aren't almost all the best chefs of the male kind? We can maintain a clean and tidy pad - especially when our mothers are expected to visit. And we no longer need to stop and unwillingly ask for directions - Google Earth hain na!

I hope all you guys out there don't feel the same as I do. Even if you do, please take a tip from the girls - fake it! Or we'll only add substance to their argument.

All men aren't the same. Karan Johar is male and I rest my case.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

It Ain't a Black Riddle

Every year the world's largest movie industry sends its official nominations to the awards celebrating the achievements of it's more popular and affluent transoceanic cousin, but not without some associated hype and the occasional controversy. This year it is Amol Palekar's Paheli - a love story of a ghost and a woman. But many beg to differ. They say Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black - a story inspired by the life of Helen Keller, was by far the best movie of the year and therefore it should have been the obvious nominee.

But, I too beg to differ. Though not entirely in support for Paheli, I can't digest the Black argument. When Black was released there were accolades all over. I waited for some time for the rave reviews to disappear and made it to the theatre. When I exited, I didn't feel that I had just witnessed the makeover of Indian cinema. It was only a relatively well-made film with a dark and damp look. The much appreciated acting seemed a little overboard. Histrionics is not equivalent to good acting. And all films sans songs are not necessarily good. It was just another hatke movie, but without the ability to really hata de.

Paheli (and its makers) had no revolutionary airs about them. In the classical Indian story telling style it narrated what it had to say. Songs, dance, emotion, drama, love, pain, betrayal, humour all the ingredients were present. But it was not a masala movie. Nicely executed, this movie is what Indian cinema is all about rather than attempting to ape a style with which the Academy members are more familiar.

The story of Paheli has been told before on celluloid and neither is Black anything new. A strikingly similar film made it to the Oscars some three decades ago. When the Aishwariya Rai starrer Jeans can be India's representative, why not Paheli?

Can't we have some connection between the National Award winners and nominations for international awards? After all the National Awards supposedly recognises the best of Indian cinema.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Google Turns 7

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Evil is Good

We have been wanting for ages for all the differences, inequalities, suffering to disappear from this world. But if that utopian dream ever materialises, what a dull, drab and monotonous place this planet will be. The absence of wars, suffering and poverty will make peace, happiness and plenty erode their meanings. When you are always happy, you don't understand what happiness stands for.

We may despise the negative aspects of our environs and make efforts to diminish them. But for the sake of making our existence more meaningful they should never be eliminated. A little of evil is needed to make the good feel better.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

The Wealth of Humans

Man enters the world with nothing on him, and also leaves in a similar fashion (If you count the Pharaohs and the like out). During his material existence, what is his greatest asset? Money, he might inherit or earn on his own. Love, he might give and get more in return. Or is it that psychological result of perception, learning and reasoning - what we also know as knowledge? An unending quest, an inexhaustible (tax free) treasure. But unfortunately it cannot ever be bequeathed in whole. When a soul departs it takes along something away that no one ever will know. But fortunately, utilization of knowledge (proper or otherwise) can result in material riches, which can be willed and later fought over in courts.

Knowledge is not only about knowing all the answers in a millionaire minting game show and reading all the bulky books. Knowledge as a databank of information is useless. Understanding is the key. Whenever you understand, in money or in love - it's your greatest asset playing its part.

Ignorance is bliss. And I am a pauper.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Losing the Little Cultures

Losing the Little Cultures
The greatest challenge before independent India was one of keeping the nation together. 'Unity in diversity' became the catchphrase. Public speeches, school books, newspapers and the radio - all conveyed the same message. Irrespective of caste, creed or religion we are all one - Indians.

Slowly as the county is getting smaller keeping pace with the shrinking world, this dream is nearing fruition. But where are those little cultures disappearing? The dominant culture is slowly assimilating all others in its vicinity. The peculiar lifestyles have adopted a pan-Indian look. Earthy dialects are shrouded into silence in the cities and slowly fading from the countryside with each passing generation. The anglicised creole is the new lingua franca.

We all are fast becoming like each other, we all are becoming one - Indians. The passport will declare the citizenship, religion and mother tongue - need to be answered while filling up forms in this secular nation. But who are we beyond that? You may know, your daughter might also know, but will she be able to understand?

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Friday, September 23, 2005

War and Peace

When I was a little younger and the topic of war cropped up in any discussion, my father would always emphasise upon me the pain and suffering which war brings upon the people. The history texts taught in my school (and many others across the nation), indirectly or otherwise glorified the practice of war. I haven't experienced any wars; only read about them in the papers and saw the mutilated bodies on prime time television. At most I've lived through a few communal riots.

My father's words would run a chill across my spine but the ghastly images no longer shock me. Overexposure desensitised me. For my father things might have been a little different. During the partition of India he was merely a toddler, but the anecdotes of the anarchy that followed must have impacted him. 1962, when the Chinese came knocking at our doorsteps and 'India' left the northeast to fate - he must have felt the pangs of being unwanted and uncared for. 1971, Pakistani mortar shells landed on the village fields and his pet mongrel ran away in the cacophony - never to return again. The refugees who rushed in had tales of brutality and savagery to narrate. His brother - then a lieutenant in the Indian army - was on the battlefront.

Now we possess nuclear deterrence, but my English text was not as insensitive as History. It described the horror of Hiroshima. North Korea fears U.S. will nuke it and China threatens to blast the Americans if they meddle with Taiwan. Nuclear deterrence or nuclear arrogance?

The wars of today are fought in lands far away from mine, involving people I don't know. It is perhaps why I don't seem to care. But what about the little battles, still raging? The ones against our own kind. The ones which we dump into the collective waste of our memory of the other India. We let loose an Army trained to kill in order to pacify the disoriented and disgruntled youth. We conduct air raids and bomb our own towns. They cry rape, murder - we say terrorists (militant is too soft a word). They start off as well intentioned militants - we transform them into terrorists because we just don't care.

My father nowadays doesn't discuss war. He prefers silence. Perhaps he still cares.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

The J-School Jamboree

Not many of the veteran top-notch Indian journalists have had much of a professional training; all they learnt was on the field and/or the desk. Experience for them was definitely not the comb which life hands out when you go bald. It was after years of perseverance that one finally evolved.

Today's two-minute instant world is different. The road to the big-bad world of scribes passes through an expensive expressway called the Journalism School. The detour is usually potholed. Very few colleges and fewer universities used to offer formal education in the field of news mongering. But, the times they are a changin'. Every other university now has a journalism or similar course running; there also exists an entire university dedicated to the fourth estate.

The present hype around the J trade could only be matched by the B-School boom and the once bulging IT bubble. The media houses have also jumped in; why not make some extra bucks? Television channels, newspapers and even production houses run their own grooming schools for wannabe journalists. The tentacles of 'study institutes' offering 'authorised' courses have already crept into parts of the nation where even copies of the national dailies don't reach the newsstands.

The media boom is on. Every few months a new channel or a publication is launched. Rumours of astronomical salaries in the erstwhile jhola-chap, kholapuri clad profession do the rounds - the figures inflated by a few grands every round. But are there enough jobs out there? Organizations are downsizing across-the-board and the advent of foreign investment will only make things even more difficult. Most of these courses do not come cheap. Parents have to dig into their retirement funds.

The present state of affairs resembles the storm before the lull. The boom is waiting to go bust. Now door-to-door salesmen are MBAs and shortly the girl pestering you over the phone for a personal loan or a credit card might be a trained newsreader.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

There Are Lies, Damned Lies and Opinion Polls

India Today
Hello! Wake up! It's that time of the year again. The ad generating annual b-school survey is over (25% of Outlook's print space was occupied by ads from b-schools only). India's two leading weekly newsmagazines (and some non-leading ones too) are on a circulation-enhancing spree. Selling what is believed to sell the most - SEX.

So much has already been said, written and shown about it, so what's new? No brain raking needed. OutlookA simple opinion poll will suffice. Round up a random sample of gullible idle respondents, some real, the rest concocted (I speak from first hand experience here). Get them to fill up a dreary questionnaire (Just tick, don't think). Total, average, correlate, deviate and come out with figures which startle the reader. If the deviation from the accepted norm of social behaviour is not of a shocking degree, no problem at all. Some other sleazy story can occupy the cover - the innards can always be filled up by numbers, bars, diagrams, graphs - a little tweaked - for that sensationalistic value. The empty spaces (there'll be lots) adorned with nudes.

What's the story? Who cares? Doesn't tickle those grey cells but definitely does stimulate those testosterone producing glands. The vendor outside my office displays multiple copies prominently and the two rivals disappear from the stands with competing vigour. Scandalised readers will again remind Vinod Mehta of his Debonair days and he'll wonder over the solitary condom ad in an issue on sex.

When the jurnos are no good, throw in the pollsters (and some photographers).

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Emperor's New Chairs

Modernisation has been the motto of many a ruler. But Emperor Menelik II (1844-1913) of Abyssinia (now Ethopia) takes the cake with the cherry on the top. On hearing of the new modernised way of killing convicts - the electric chair (first used on August 6, 1890) - the emperor decided to implement it in his country. He put an order for three such chairs with the American manufacturer.

When the delivery arrived and a trial run had to be conducted, it was discovered that the chairs needed electricity to carry out their desired function. And Abyssinia had no electricity. The progressive emperor couldn't let his investment go wasted. He adopted one of them as his imperial throne.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Bodily Disowned

Devoid of any worldly possessions, the least a man possesses is his own self.

In 1890 a Swedish gentlemen desperately in need of money signed a contract with the Caroline Institute in Stockholm (which also awards the Nobel Prize in medicine) stating that the doctors there can use his body for dissection purposes after his death. In return he got the money he needed. 20 years later the same gentleman inherited a large sum of money and decided that he didn't want to get his body dissected. He tried to buy back the contract from the institute. The institute declined and the gentleman took them to the court.

He not only lost the case, but also had to pay damages to the institute for getting two of his teeth extracted without permission.

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Dear Friend...

The worth of a friend like all other good things in life is best realised in their absence. I make few friends and retain even fewer. Time ticks, life moves and everything cannot remain constant. Everything can't always be as you want them to be. Things have to change. People have to move on, with their lives, their dreams, their aspirations. You'd want them not too, but that would be too selfish. And friendship like love is about selflessness. Time and distance alter many a relationship, twisting them beyond recognition. But sometimes you hope that you're able to hold on, a little bit longer...

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Friday, September 16, 2005

The Remix Revolution

No, this is not about the stupid TV serial where XI standard students are taught history, chemistry and accountancy in the same stream; where the school mysteriously turns into a college and the uniforms disappear into thin air. This is about an equally irritating phenomenon - the 'revival' of the golden oldies.

Who says there are no shortcuts to success? Even if you are musically challenged, you can make it big in the industry without having to go through the ordeal of being humiliated by the judges while competing with other bathroom singers on national television. Just pick up an old hit, add some monotonous percussion and psychedelic electronic noises. Sprinkle some rap (unintelligible words read out against music), though that's optional. Get some midriff baring, cleavage revealing teens to gyrate before a camera (this is compulsory). If you can get them wet, better. Give yourself an anonym (the prefix DJ is obligatory). And you have your 15 minutes of fame, until your milkman gets through with his recording.

Q: What is the state of Punjab's No. 2 occupation?

A: Agriculture

[For the uninitiated, Punjab is India's leading producer in agriculture. Of late the state has also witnessed a boom in the pop music industry, though not necessarily of the remixed variety]

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Marathon Runners

Every locality has its character actors. The types who happen to be present on every occasion. They might not be the life of the gathering, but their absence makes things a bit dull. So when our community religio-cultural organization decided to celebrate the centenary of its existence, Kuttu and Pappu were active participants in almost everything with varying degrees of success. Then came the much anticipated mini-marathon.

After weeks of early morning exercises and training, Kuttu and Pappu were ready for the run. Jostling their way through the motley crowd of runners, they hit upon a brilliant idea - "Why not take a shortcut?" They gave the metalled roads a skip and stumbled down the pine covered hilly slopes, waded through the brooks and finally reached the finishing line - exhausted. Only to find the whole place deserted, except for a solitary caretaker. No runners in sight, they congratulated each other on their momentous victory - the underdogs finally had their day.

The caretaker, somewhat bemused with the jubilation said, "The race is long over and everyone has gone home."

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How American Have I become?

The colour is slowly fading to color. The z eating up the s. A land on the other side of the globe but yet so near, so influencing. I love Bade Ghulam Ali Khan but adore Bob Dylan. I detest Chacha Chaudhary and similar crap while appreciating the humour in Mad. Mark Twain occupies a more prized position on my bookshelf than RK Narayan. I go to watch Sarkar not because it is a Ram Gopal Verma film, but for the reason that it is his tribute to Godfather. Not many of us follow basketball but Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan adorn the walls of hostel rooms. The five pocket trousers made of denim is the de facto attire. I watch Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai, but the Simpsons remains an all time favourite.

The make over, thankfully, is not yet over. The dil phir bhi is hindustani (the heart remains Indian). The light switches are still not upside down. I ask for a litre of petrol at the petrol pump not a gallon of gas at the gas station and drive the kilometres (not miles) on the left side of the road. I read the hoardings; billboard is only a top 20 countdown. I walk into McDonalds and eat my McAloo Tikki burger. Lassi still rules over Coke. BC and MC are more effective in a brawl than f**k and MF. Staying with the parents (not folks) does not make me less manly. I live cricket and can't comprehend baseball (only the bats come handy in the aforementioned brawls). And I still don't like George Bush. Whew!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Music for a Song

Online piracy has been for long a nuisance to the music industry. Much publicised battles have been fought on the web and in the courts, but with limited success. What escapes the attention of the media is the deluge of offline MP3s. The large scale proliferation of home PCs and dirt-cheap MP3 players have only magnified the malice. A little bargaining can get you a CD loaded with 150 'superhit' songs for Rs. 20 (45 cents). The sidewalks of the metros and the mofussil towns are stacked with the stuff. Neighbourhood rental shops also rent them out - Rs. 10 only. Downloading the equivalent from the net would have cost many times more. Purchasing the original CDs - forget it.

The quality might not be great, but it is more than worth the price paid. The customer is happy. He no longer has to empty his wallet or inflate his credit card bills at the cash counters of music stores.

The music industry does not seem to have learnt its lesson. They are concentrating only on the ethical and legal aspects. Their anti-piracy blitzkrieg is limited to an ad here and a raid there. After a few days of lull the pirates are again back to business. What they should have realised is that the advantage the pirates have is in the price. Low priced original movie DVDs and VCDs have dented the pirates' market-share. Its now the turn of the music industry to go for competitive (read pirate unfriendly) and consumer friendly pricing.

One fact that I fail to comprehend. A CD costs less to produce than an audio cassette. Then why does the same music on a CD cost at least three times than that on an audio cassette?

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Monday, September 12, 2005

The Three Cs and an S of Neo Journalism

The first lesson taught in journalism school is invariably the five Ws and one H - what, who, when, where, why and how. Now a recently launched news channel (a sister concern of a leading Hindi newspaper) directs it employees to adhere to the three Cs and one S - crime, cinema, cricket and sex. This, according to them is what constitutes news, this is what that sells.

Once, not very long ago, we had a term for such stuff - yellow journalism. Now the jaundiced tinge is omnipresent. Such journalism used to be on the periphery of the mainstream and now, it is the mainstream. Everything else is marginal. Sting operations are the item numbers. We should no longer masquerade as the watchdogs of democracy and freedom, when all that we are interested in is dogs and bitches on the heat.

Titillation, sensationalism, exaggeration are the rallying cries. Last weekend there was a minor fire in a building opposite my office; OB vans with logos of news channels proudly emblazoned on the sides eat up the road space (otherwise a no parking zone), the first right over which belong to the fire tenders responding to the emergency. As I narrate this irresponsibility to my flatmate, he quips, "All new constructions will not only have to be disabled friendly, but also OB van friendly."

Journalism used to be a respectable profession. Now whenever I accompany my journalist friends on a house hunting endeavour, the expressions of the property dealers and the landlords, on learning about the trade says it all.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Organic Empathy

A Muslim woman undergoes a kidney transplant in Mumbai. All she knows about her brain dead donor is that he was a Hindu Gujarati vegetarian. As a mark of gratitude she decides to respect his family's gesture by turning vegetarian, reports today's Times of India.

If only we learn how to respect each other's sensibilities, we can focus on how to make this world a better place to live in, rather than slitting each other's throats.

Read the full story

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Friday, September 09, 2005

We Don't Need No Scissorhands

Censorship is a dirty word. A bunch of prudes selected by the morons we elect decide what a citizen of a free nation should and shouldn't watch. In this era of information technology the very idea behind censorship - denying the people their right to know - is a futile one. Everything that I need to know is right here on my desktop. Even the films, which the censors try to snip to obscurity, are available at any friendly neighbourhood VCD/DVD rental in their unedited glory.

The present chairperson of India's Central Board of Film Certification (also known more appropriately as the Censor Board) was one of the pioneering Indian actresses who dared to don a skimpy swimsuit at a time when women in Indian cinema were perpetually draped under nine yards of silk and chiffon. But age and political inclinations seems to have eroded any remnant of that rebellious streak.

She believes that Indian filmmakers can't self-regulate and therefore is not very open to the idea of a rating body of filmmakers. Those itchy fingers can't help but be scissor-happy.

The proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act, which presumably seeks to regulate moral policing and give more respect to the rights of the viewer is indeed welcome. But that as of yet is only a promise and the patchwork of a government we have is rarely able to materialise the promised.

Tired of watching the 'uncensored' on a 17-inch monitor, I yearn for a 70 mm experience.

Central Board of Film Certification Website

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Blue Jeans in my Genes

Little did the young immigrant from Bavaria called Levi Strauss and a Nevada tailor named Jacob Davis realize while filing for their patent for 'Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings,' that it would evolve to be the greatest fashion ever. Generations to come will swear by their copper riveted 'waist overalls.'

Jeans especially the five-pocketed variety crafted from blue denim remains an all time favorite. The flexibility that a pair of blue jeans offers to me is unparalleled. Needing little or almost no care, wash - only when dirty enough (the enough part is also flexible), ironing - what's that? The holes and the tears only add to the look.

It forms a perfect combo with shirts, t-shirts, kurtas, undershirts and even bare topped. Shoes, sneakers, sandals all can be worn beneath. I can don them at home, at the office, in parties, in my bed and even took a bath wearing them many a times. Being an editorial guy I can casually walk into meetings in my tattered jeans.

No barrier of class, creed or sex exists. From Rs. 150 ($3.00) a pair to a few grands, the range is enormous. They're even worn beneath burqas.

The utilitarian value does not diminish even after a decade of wear and tear. A female friend revealed that cut into strips, they are also very good for waxing. I normally make doormats or dusters out of my old faithfuls, didn't ever think of giving the waxing thing a try.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Casting My Caste

The caste-ridden Hindi heartland of India is often quite predictable. The query about an individual's name is inevitably followed by an inquiry into one's status in the caste hierarchy. The question might be inescapable, but I have so far evaded answering it. What has helped me is my surname which stretches across the barriers of caste (also language and religion). But conclusions are always drawn.

The most orthodox of Brahmins did not hesitate to break bread with me. The Kshatriyas believed that the warrior blood ran in my veins and the Kayasthas treated me as brethren. Only the first name was a giveaway. It revealed both my religious and linguistic affinity. If only my parents had named me something like Kabir, I would have breached those barriers too.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Think About It

The best advice for you is often the one you give to others.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Erasing the Lines of Discord


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Think About It

"Since merit is largely a matter of reputation, it often happens that men of ability and learning are ignored because no one knows about them. "

-Mirza Mohammad Hadi Ruswa

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Saturday, September 03, 2005



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My Philosophy

My Philosophy

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Someone Stole My Blog

Is imitation the best form of flattery? I accidentally discovered my blog's twin yesterday; a replica sans the template, the suffix and my profile. All that I post on my 'authorised' blog is imitated on the counterfeit version. And all along I was clueless.

How am I supposed to react? Should I feel elated or violated? But I am simply bemused. Why on planet earth would anyone be stupid enough to imitate of all the wonderful weblogs in the blogosphere - MY BLOG?

The strategy seems to be one of attracting advertisers by piling up faux content. And mine was just a randomly picked one. I never expected to mint any serious money out of my writing, now some wily website believes that it can. Let them have their try.

With forgers going on their ever so innovative ways, I can't help but imagine myself in MF Hussain's shoes (does he wear any?).

[It seems that they have taken my blog off their site. The realism at last dawned on them that my writing can't deliver the greens]

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Friday, September 02, 2005

A Melancholic Ecstasy

One man's music is another's noise. I often hear murmurs of protest whenever I play my type of music at my workplace. Therefore the strains of Indian Ocean have to make their way to my tympanic membrane only through the headphones.

In the mid 1990s my music maniac brother (he's also a foto freak) was reverberating the neighbourhood with a new type of sound (he's no musician, but he is an ardent believer that people four houses down the hill should also listen to what he likes). And I said hey! that's my kind of noise. And an affair with Indo-rock fusion began.

My cruise on this ocean began with their first self-titled album and all their subsequent efforts (Black Friday being the last) have only but enriched my passion for their type of fusion.

With a missionary zeal, I have been able to convert many of my friends and acquaintances to my brand of euphonical noise (my conservative colleagues remain unrelenting). And now I am shifting my focus online.

Like them, loath them, but you can't ignore them. Indian Ocean is not a tsunami; it is the gentle sea breeze bringing along clouds that quench the often-arid landscape of popular Indian music.

Tune In
Desert Rain
Ma Rewa

The Indian Ocean Website

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Funny Side Up

[Way back in 2002, having made one of my juvenile attempts at writing, I promptly submitted the draft to the university's feature service and was paid Rs. 150 as compensation for my efforts. Whether that piece ever made its way to any newspaper or publication, I am still unaware. This is what I wrote.]

WHAT WOMEN WANT? … Numerous surveys and studies have been conducted in an attempt to decipher what even the greatest brains (perhaps even god, if he's a male) have failed. But nevertheless attempts to unravel this mystery continue. One want of women is 'almost' universal (mind the word 'almost') - MAN, in him she wants good looks, intellect … blah … blah … blah …. And quite high on that list of preferences lies 'A SENSE OF HUMOUR'.

This sense of humour is something, which differentiates Homo Sapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom (In some of our acts we are worse than beasts). But what basically is humour? - Is it the mere tickling of the funny bone … I believe that it goes much beyond this. Humour is an art (as well as a science) in itself. A person with a sense of humour has a magnetic ability to attract people. This sense is beyond the essential five and the proverbial sixth … I call it the seventh sense. This is not merely the ability to make others laugh, but to laugh oneself as well and most importantly the ability to laugh at oneself, because you can make the world laugh with you, only if you are comfortable with the world laughing at you.

Humour is mainly concentrated around jokes. A joke has no utility in itself; its essence lies in sharing it. It is a social phenomenon – it has a wonderful ability to break barriers, release tensions and establish contacts (if only we could share jokes rather than bullets and bombs across the borders). A joke can be verbal or written on one hand and practical on the other. The latter is an entirely different discipline in itself (one of the specialists of this genre is Cyrus ‘the virus’ Broacha). Here the effort is to keep the focus primarily on the former. The tail of the joke which comes at the end is its most vital part – often called the ‘punch line’; the punch which it delivers results in the following laughter.

Jokes are of a thousand and one types (and more). Ranging from one liners like 'Hum do humare do, jab tak teesra na ho' (we two, our two unless a third comes along), the essential elephant and ant jokes to the ones on marriage, mothers-in-law, ethnic, religious etc. (the last two are a dangerous proposition in the present volatile times).

Joke telling and joke listening have been traditionally masculine activities and therefore male chauvinism had a free play. Even today I feel that a good joke shared with a group of men derives more fun than with women (no offence meant). But, ironically humour is one of the 'wants of women'. Here I would like to make it clear that humour as a whole covers a much broader canvas than joke telling and listening.

Some jokes are universal, while others are not. By universal I mean that it can elicit laughs from one and all; and 'others' can get their guffaws from only a select audience. For example, only the people who are familiar with the nuances of the profession can understand professional jokes. Doctors, lawyers, IT professionals have these circulating amongst themselves.

If the world is upto something can we Indians be far behind? The answer is a big NO! If the west can have their Jewish and Irish jokes, we have more than our fair share in Sardarji, Sindhi, Bengali, Jat, Madrasi …. (name a community and you will find a collection of jokes on them. Even divinity is not spared (be careful here). When it comes to characters Santa and Banta lead the race (JP Singh Kaka of Bhopal has been one of the prominent contributors to the S&B repertoire. Flip the pages of history we have our Birbals, Tenali ramas and Gopal Bhars. In modern day India 'the dirty old man' - Khushwant Singh and Jug Suraiya are the crusaders for the cause. Our newspapers in addition to the pocket cartoons (RK Laxman is the legend of the genre) and comic strips, there are the third editorials, the 'middle' on the edit page, light hearted columns and the latest entry into the fold 'Comment' at the tail of the news of the 165 year old The Times of India. But unfortunately in television the golden era of laughs has gone past. Those were the times when we relished the likes of Nukkad, Dekh Bhai Dekh etc. Nowadays we have to be content with the videshi stuff on Star World or Zee English. Even in films the story is similar, David Dhawan has long lost his tickling touch. The current fare is simply slapstick, with notable exceptions like Hera Pheri.

In the social arena we Indians have woken up to the importance of laughter in our lives. Laughing clubs are mushrooming in the parks of every other city. The sight itself is humorous - on a dewy morning, children, adults, males and females of all shapes and sizes are splitting their sides laughing - and someone is yet to tell the joke.

Jokes apart, in the present days of crisis and stress, what we are in the need of most is the seventh sense - the sense of humour. It enables us to look at the brighter side of things, gives hope, let us see things in a clearer perspective. The theme of the days to come should be (a slight variation of that of the 1960s) - 'Make laugh, not war'.

Q: What is the maximum punishment for bigamy?

A: Two mothers in law.

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