Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Arrogance abounds

Does being any kind of celebrity or public figure entitle a person to think that he lives in a world apart, where common courtesy, decency and humility no longer exist?
My friend Kiran of Karmic Kids put up a most distressing post today. Her young son had a very narrow escape from being run over by a person with no road sense whatsoever, who also happens to be a television actor. Thank your stars, Gaurav Chopra, that nothing happened to that child.
However big or small or famous or commonplace a person is, he is arrogant beyond belief if he thinks that only he has the right of way, and that only his time is precious.
Nothing, Mr.Chopra, nothing is more precious than a human life.
Building compounds are not motorways.
Yelling at the mother to take better care of her child and threatening to run over the child the next time- where did you learn all this, Mr. Chopra?
Apologising only when confronted by the child's well built father smacks of cowardice.
I had no opinion about you before this, but now for me your name will forever be associated with arrogance and cowardice.
Learn some manners and some road sense before it's too late.

Friday, February 20, 2009

On the side of the egg

A friend had mailed this excerpt to me, and I just had to share it with you.
I have enjoyed some of his work, of which I only actually remember
'Hardboiled wonderland and the end of the world'.


The novelist in wartime

In this powerful speech, the great author explains his controversial decision to accept a literary prize in Israel and why we need to fight the System. By Haruki Murakami
Feb. 20, 2009 |
I have come to Jerusalem today as a novelist, which is to say as a professional spinner of lies.

Of course, novelists are not the only ones who tell lies. Politicians do it, too, as we all know. Diplomats and military men tell their own kinds of lies on occasion, as do used car salesmen, butchers and builders. The lies of novelists differ from others, however, in that no one criticizes the novelist as immoral for telling lies. Indeed, the bigger and better his lies and the more ingeniously he creates them, the more he is likely to be praised by the public and the critics. Why should that be?

My answer would be this: Namely, that by telling skillful lies -- which is to say, by making up fictions that appear to be true -- the novelist can bring a truth out to a new location and shine a new light on it. In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form. In order to accomplish this, however, we first have to clarify where the truth lies within us. This is an important qualification for making up good lies.

Today, however, I have no intention of lying. I will try to be as honest as I can. There are a few days in the year when I do not engage in telling lies, and today happens to be one of them.

So let me tell you the truth. In Japan a fair number of people advised me not to come here to accept the Jerusalem Prize. Some even warned me they would instigate a boycott of my books if I came. The reason for this, of course, was the fierce battle that was raging in Gaza. The U.N. reported that more than a thousand people had lost their lives in the blockaded Gaza City, many of them unarmed citizens -- children and old people. 

Any number of times after receiving notice of the award, I asked myself whether traveling to Israel at a time like this and accepting a literary prize was the proper thing to do, whether this would create the impression that I supported one side in the conflict, that I endorsed the policies of a nation that chose to unleash its overwhelming military power. This is an impression, of course, that I would not wish to give. I do not approve of any war, and I do not support any nation. Neither, of course, do I wish to see my books subjected to a boycott.

Finally, however, after careful consideration, I made up my mind to come here. One reason for my decision was that all too many people advised me not to do it. Perhaps, like many other novelists, I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me -- and especially if they are warning me -- "Don't go there," "Don't do that," I tend to want to "go there" and "do that." It's in my nature, you might say, as a novelist. Novelists are a special breed. They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands.

And that is why I am here. I chose to come here rather than stay away. I chose to see for myself rather than not to see. I chose to speak to you rather than to say nothing.

Please do allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:

"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: it is "the System." The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others -- coldly, efficiently, systematically.

I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on the System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist's job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories -- stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.

My father died last year at the age of 90. He was a retired teacher and a part-time Buddhist priest. When he was in graduate school, he was drafted into the army and sent to fight in China. As a child born after the war, I used to see him every morning before breakfast offering up long, deeply felt prayers at the Buddhist altar in our house. One time I asked him why he did this, and he told me he was praying for the people who had died in the battlefield. He was praying for all the people who died, he said, both ally and enemy alike. Staring at his back as he knelt at the altar, I seemed to feel the shadow of death hovering around him.

My father died, and with him he took his memories, memories that I can never know. But the presence of death that lurked about him remains in my own memory. It is one of the few things I carry on from him, and one of the most important.

I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called the System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong -- and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others' souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow the System to exploit us. We must not allow the System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made the System. That is all I have to say to you.

-- By Haruki Murakami


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bangalore, 6th February, 2009

This is an excerpt from the following blog:

This has been narrated by Saugata Chatterjee to a friend of the author of the above mentioned blog.

'A few of my friends and I were just paying our bills and coming out of our regular Friday night watering hole and dinner place in Rest House Road, just off Brigade Road, and most of the women in the company were already standing outside. Some of us outside were smoking, people were happy, there was laughter and jokes, as there were many other people in the street, all coming out, satiated, in the closing hour of the various pubs and restaurants around.

Suddenly from up the street a massive SUV comes revving and speeding, hurtling down, and stops in a scream of brakes and swirling dust, millimeters away from this group of 4 women, barely missing one of their legs. A white Audi, imported, still under transfer, with the registration plate of KA-51 TR-2767. Some millionaire's toy thing, that in the wrong hands can kill.

Naturally the women are in shock. And quickly following the shock comes indignation. These are self made women running their own businesses, managing state responsibilities for global NGO firms, successful doctors. They are not used to being bullied. So they turn around, instead of shrinking back in fear. They protest.

And as soon as they turn around in protest, the car doors are flung open, and a stream of 4-5 rabid men run out towards these women, screaming obscenities in Hindi and Kannada against women in general, fists flailing. Some of us who came in running at the sound of the screaming brakes now stand in the middle in defense of our women, and then blows start raining down. One of the goons make a couple of calls over the cellphone, and in seconds a stream of other equally rabid goondas land up. They gun straight for the women, and everyone – a few well-meaning bystanders, acquaintances who know us from the restaurant, basically everyone who tries to help the women – starts getting thoroughly beaten up.

Women are kicked in the groin, punched in the stomach, slapped across the face, grabbed everywhere, abused constantly. Men are smashed up professionally, blows aimed at livers, groins, kidneys and nose. A friend is hit repeatedly on the head by a stone until he passes out in a flood of blood.

A plain-clothes policeman (Vittal Kumar) who saunters in late stands by watching and urging people to stop, but doing absolutely nothing else. A 'cheetah' biker cop comes in, with our women pleading him to stop this madness, but he refuses action, saying a police van will come in soon and he cannot do anything. Everyone keeps getting hammered. Relentlessly.

The carnage continues for over 20 minutes.

Finally when the police van does come in it is this vandals who are raging and ranting, claiming to be true "sons of the Kannadiga soil", and we are positioned to be the villainous outsiders, bleeding, outraged. How do the cops believe them, especially seeing the bloody faces of our men and the violated rage of our women, while they carry nary a scratch on their bodies? Don't ask me! Yet, it is us who these goondas urge the newly arrived law-keepers to arrest, and the police promptly comply, and we are bundled into the van, some still being beaten as we are pushed in. Some blessed relief from pain inside the police van at least, even if we are inside and the real goons outside, driving alongside in their spanking white Audi. The guy who was hit by the stone is taken separately by the women to Mallya hospital.

Inside the police station at Cubbon Park it becomes clear that these goons and the police know each other by their first names. The policeman in charge (Thimmappa) initially refuses to even register any complaint from me, on the purported grounds that I am not fluent in Kannada and I have taken a few drinks (3 Kingfisher pints, to be precise) over the evening. No, it doesn't matter that I didn't have my car and was not driving, and no, it doesn't mater that the complaint will be written in English. We watch them and the goons exchange smiles and nods with our our bloodied and swelling eyes and realize in our pain-clouded still-in-shock brains the extent of truth in the claim of one of the main goons when he claimed earlier in the evening in virulent aggression: we own this town, this car belongs to an MLA, we will see how you return to this street!!

This was the turning point of the saga, I guess. For we refused to lie down quietly and be victims.

One of our girls, a vintage and proud Bangalorean who is running one of the town's most successful organic farming initiatives, took upon herself to write the complaint, when I was not allowed to write the same. Another Bangalore girl, a state director of a global NGO firm, wrote the other molestation complaint separately on behalf of all the girls. Some of us called our friends in the media and corporate world. Everyone stepped up. And even when the odds were down and we were out, we did not give up, and as a singular body of violated citizens we spoke in one voice of courage and indomitable spirit. That voice had no limitation of language, not Kannada, nor English, or Hindi. It was the voice of human spirit that cannot be broken.

And in the face of that spirit, for the first time, we saw the ugly visage of vandalism, hiding behind the thin and inadequate veil of political corrupt power, narrow-vision regionalism and self-serving morality, start to wilt.

We spent 6 hours next day in the police station. The sub-inspector of police who filed our FIR, Ajay R M, seemed a breath of fresh air inasmuch that he did not appear a-priori biased like others, even though the hand of corruption and politico-criminal power backing these goons was still manifest in many ways: a starched, white-linen power-broker walked in handing over his card to the sub-inspector in support of the goons; the goons got an audience with the Inspector because of this intervention, while we had to interact one level lower down in the hierarchy; the plains cloth policeman of last night, even though he had arrived far too late in the crime scene, gave a warped statement, passing it off as a "neutral" point of view, repeatedly stressing that we came out of a pub and hence were drinking, positioning this as a 'drunken brawl', while completely forgetting to mention the unprovoked attack against the women and the one-sided vandalism and violence that ensued. I guess one cannot blame the low ranked police officer – the criminal connections of these goons must be pervasive enough for him to be careful.

Thanks however to the impartial handling of the situation by Ajay, soon the goons were all identified. The lead actor was one Ravi Mallaya (38), a real estate honcho and owner of a small property off Brigade Road which he has converted into a "gaming" (you know what that means, don't you?) adda. The others identified are Mohan Basava (22) of Chamarajapet 12th Cross, R. Vijay Kumar Ramalingaraju (25) and Shivu Rajashekar (20). All are residents of 12th & 13th Cross in Vyalikaval. Their bravado and machismo were by that time evaporated. It was good to see their faces then.

Of course nothing much happened to them, nor did we expect it. They were supposed to be in lock up for at least the weekend till they were produced in court, but we understand that they were quickly released on (anticipatory?) bail. The car, purportedly belonging to an MLA, also does not figure in the FIR, apparently for reasons of "irrelevance to the case".The media also have given us fantastic coverage and support so far, strengthening the cause.

The goons meanwhile, as an after thought, also filed the customary reverse complaint on the morning after we filed our own complaint: the women have apparently scratched the car! (Why did they not file the complaint the same night, considering they came to the Police Station in the same car? Why was the car allowed to be taken off police custody? Why is the car still irrelevant to the case and not in the FIR? Questions.. questions..).

Is this the end of this saga? Probably not. Are these women, more precious to us as friends and wives than most things in our lives, safe to walk or drive down Brigade Road from now on or are the goonda elements, slighted by this arrest and disgrace, are lying in ambush, waiting, biding their time to cause some of us more grievous harm? We don't know. Is there reason for us to remain apprehensive of future attacks and victimization? Perhaps.

But here is the point.

We stood up.

We believed in the power of individual citizens even in the face of hooliganism, intolerance, corruption and power mongering. Even though many of us have the option of leveraging political or government connections, we deliberately chose to fight this battle as individuals. Sure, these connections have been activated and they have been kept informed, should the worst case scenario unfold tomorrow. But we have chosen to not leverage them. And in every small win we register as a group of individual outraged citizens of Bangalore and India, however insignificant these milestones may be in the larger scheme of things, there is one small notch adding up in favor of what is right, one small notch against what is wrong. And we believe that every such small notch counts, each such mark is absolutely invaluable.

It is the people who make this city, this country, this world. It is you and I, as much as the terrorists inside and outside. And in our small insignificant little ways, it is my responsibility and yours to not shirk from investing effort – not just lip service or any token attempt, but real effort – in backing up what we ourselves believe in. It is so easy to logically argue that everything is corrupt, nothing is worth it, there are so many risks involved. We must not fall trap to this escapist trend. We must not fail to try.

Next time you feel outraged, violated, abused, don't let it go by and add up to your list of litanies and complaints. Stand up and take it to the limit - at least your own limit. Not in the same way as they wrong you, but in the way that every citizen, at least in theory, is entitled to complain and protest. Do not let the hooligans power rant scare you or prompt you into submission. Do not allow the corrupt cop make you give up trying. Carry the flame forward. Try harder.

If are up to it, start right now.

Forward this note to everyone you want to be made aware of this. Post it in your own blogs. Talk about it amongst your circles. And if anyone of you should like to step forward with a word of empathy or advise, talk to me. Comment.

It is not Bangalore that is going to the dogs. It is us. We have far too long become accustomed to let everything go. And the more we let things go without any protest or fight, the dormant criminal and dark elements of the society get that much more encouraged. Every time we turn the other way, the hooligan next street gets incentivized to push the boundary a little further, provoke a little more, try something a little more atrocious. It is time for us to refuse to let this go on. We are responsible for making ourselves proud. Lets believe in ourselves. We can do this.

My name is Saugata Chatterjee. And I am standing up.I refuse to let Bangalore go to the hooligan slumdogs, even if some of them are pets of corrupt power millionaires.'

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More Awards!

Aneela gave me this cup a while ago, saying ' yeh cup aapka hua'. whle she was expecting her son. She's a busy new mom now, so you can see how long I've taken to acknowledge her kindness. Thanks, Aneela- I hope you are enjoying this exhausting phase of early motherhood.

And our dear mamma of twins has certified me as an honest blogger, which sounds wonderful to someone who considers herself mostly a purveyor of fluff. Honest fluff, I guess! Thanks:)

I can't think of anyone who hasn't been awarded these yet, offhand, so I'll 'honestly' just sit on them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dover Lane Part II

The SRE and I had decided that the final night of the Conference was worth sitting through, although we hadn't heard of the sitarist who was playing after Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, whom we both love. Not only is she a wonderful singer, she is also very beautiful and a sheer joy to watch as she sways along with her tanpura!
So, driven by our wish to not miss a second of Ashwini's performance we reached the Manch a few minutes before the stipulated time. To our chagrin, not only did the performance start almost an hour late, members of the audience kept strolling in. Once Ashwini started singing Raga Rageshree, we were mesmerised. This was followed by Bihagda. She sang a brilliant, poignant dadra which still haunts me-'Sundar saree morey maike mein mail bhaee, kahey le jaawey gawanwa?' She ended her performance with Raga Paraj, which I am not at all familiar with, and wasn't able to really focus upon. I have attended several of her performances over the last fifteen years or so, and have seen many facets of this brilliant singer. From deeply spiritual, inward looking performances, to light-hearted, almost playful ones, Ashwini always shines.
The second performer of the night was Shubhendra Rao, a disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar. He played Ragas Jogeshwari and Manjh Khamaj. He is a sober, introspective and brilliant player and I hope to hear more of him soon.
I am really sorry to say that I was disappointed in Rashid Khan's performance that night. The soul seemed to be missing from his singing. He sang Raga Jog and Sohini with consumnate ease, familiar compositions which he has enhanced over the years, since I first heard the recordings of his concerts given to me by a dear friend and great aficionado of Hindustani music. But that night at Dover Lane it seemed more or less mechanical, and I did not feel that burst of joy within that comes from attending a great performance. I always have great hopes of Rashid Khan, and am looking forward to some excellent music from him in the future.
The last performer of the night and of the Conference was Ustad Amjad Ali Khan on the sarod, of whom the Dalai Lama has said, " When Amjad Ali Khan performs, he carries with him a deep human spirit, a warm feeling and a sense of caring". Indeed, one felt calmness and serenity emanating from the maestro even as he addressed the audience. He played Ragas Jhinjhoti and Durga, but by the time he'd played a Pahadi dhun, it was almost impossible for us to keep our eyes open, so the SRE and I slipped out before his final piece. So, although the spirit was willing to enjoy more food for the soul, our bodies were crying out for some sleep.
In the intervals, besides feeding ourselves, we had also bought some wonderful music- CDs of the flute maestro Pannalal Ghosh playing Ragas Darbari and Basant, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain playing Hansadhwani, and a recording of Kaushiki Desikan singing at Dover lane last year(Shyam Kalyan, a Tillana, and a Thumri).

Although this four night festival is fairly exhausting, being selective in our choices really helped. I do hope we manage to go next year as well!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


This is a lovely tag from Mandira. ( Lovely because it's easy enough for lazy bones like me to do.)
The rules of the meme are simple.

This is what you have to do:

  • Pick the 6th picture of your 6th photo folder.
  • Tell a story around it.
  • Pass it on to six other people you like.
The picture I've posted is of the lighthouse at Kiama, a beautiful coastal city in New South Wales, about a two hour drive from Canberra. It is especially famous for its blowhole, which we couldn't see in action, to the great disappointment of our host( our niece's son) and his wife, who drove us around for about a thousand kilometres in the two days we spent with them. (I still have a great deal of my Oz travels to blog about.) Blowhole or not, it was a simply beautiful place with a dark blue sea and a lovely rocky coastline. I love the brilliant white of the lighthouse against the clear blue sky. We had last met our hosts at their wedding in 2006, and we were the first members of our family to visit them at their home in Canberra. They really made it a memorable stay.

For more information on Kiama and its blowholes, do look up this link.

I hereby tag kbpm, Unmana, Usha, Wordjunkie, Desigirl and Dotthoughts, and whoever else would like to do this tag.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Barkhaji, would you like a list?

Of blogs and bloggers and commentors who have criticised
(a) your coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks
(b) your channel serving a legal notice against C.Kunte for his post Shoddy Journalism* which resulted in his withdrawal of the post and an apology.

It would make the filing of libel suits a lot easier for you.
You would know how highly you are appreciated by the blogging community.
The list is larger than you can imagine, and is growing by the day.
Do let me know.

*The relevant post is at the bottom of the page.