Friday, September 29, 2006

The Homecoming

It's in the air.
I am sitting bang in the middle of Connaught Place, working on strategy for a Hindi newspaper and there is a strong aroma of chhole-bhature hanging around... but the feeling is unmistakable.
It's Pujo. And my Bengali gene has smelt it.
Of course, it helps that I live in Chittaranjan Park where Bijoli Grill, Ananda Publishers and full-throated Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu are ruling the roost.

But as I was walking through a non-descript locality in Kanpur last night, I followed a string of decorative bulbs to see my first Durga idol of this season.
A week back, as my car crossed the Ganga bridge just outside the city, I was greeted with the wondrous sight of a field full of kash-phool.
And the heart beats a little faster.
Inexplicably. Because, the childish joys of new clothes, annual issues of magazines, going out with friends, stuffing your face with fish fry are no longer matters of life and death. You can do without all of them - but you feel a little diminished without them.

And the small things conspire to make these four days a little out of the ordinary.

It is Saptami. And I am in office.
But, the Boss remains absent, so I can go home a little early.

I did not get to buy any of the annual numbers of the Bengali magazines.
But, Fabmall manages to deliver the latest Jeffrey Archer just before the courier companies close down for the weekend.

All my school and college mates are flung far across the globe.
But, all of them seem to pop up unerringly on Yahoo Messenger, Orkut and good ol' Hotmail.

I am hassled with the lack of Benfish stalls in Delhi municipal limits.
But, a Bijoli Grill stall materialises in the K Block pujo.

I no longer care about new clothes.
But, my mother and mother-in-law keep up the tradition of gifting horrendously expensive clothes.

Basically, the Goddess does not want to keep people unhappy during these four days. So, for these four days, I am going home.

(For a wonderfully evocative account by a honorary Bengali, here is Vir Sanghvi's take on Durga Pujo.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What Book was Sharmila Reading?

The opium of Bollywood is so strong that even apparently uninterested people get dangerously hooked on to the stars, their films and legends thereof.

Everybody seems to know the name of Gabbar Singh’s father (Bihari Singh – mentioned cursorily during his sentencing), the name of the barber (Hariram Naii) and the two towns closest to Ramgarh (Meerut & Moradabad – mentioned in a Basanti monologue).
Too many Saturdays at home (Shanivaar ke Raat, Amitabh ke Saath popping alarmingly often during the channel zapping), too many Bollywood primers at the airport bookstalls and too many Bollywood-crazy friends (you guys know anybody like that?)…

And of course, if you have taken up the subject as a matter for lifelong devotion & dissertation, then I am sure you will also be impressed by the apparently endless amount of research that it sometimes takes to confirm a seemingly innocuous piece of trivia.

Exaggeration? Allow me to elaborate.

Floating on the fringes of the uber-intellectual, hyper-competitive Calcutta quizzing circuit, one came across an interesting question – “During the Mere Sapnon ki Rani song in Aradhana, what book was Sharmila Tagore reading?”
Everybody knew it was an Alistair Maclean novel – but how does one find out the title?
Step 1: Rent a videocassette of the film.
Step 2: Pause cleverly at the correct shot. (This needed prior head cleaning if you did not want a grizzly screen.)
Step 3: Read title of book.
Uh oh… the title is not readable! At least, not in those Shemaroo – or was it Ultra – cassettes. Okay, do not lose heart. Solution is just two more steps away!
Step 4: Memorise photograph on cover.
Step 5: Go to RMIC library, Authors M – Z and find the cover that looks like the correct one! Eureka – When Eight Bells Toll!

I thought this wonderfully tantalizing question had been given a deserving burial with the amount of dedicated research I had accorded it.
Only, a couple of years later – I had the misfortune of being forwarded the following email by a friend.

Genuine? Fake? You decide.
Either ways, Harvard needs to endow a Chair for Bollywood Trivia real soon.

From: "Sharmila Thakur" <>
Subject: which book
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 21:50:21 PST
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

I understand that there is some debate about the book I was holding in a train when Rajesh was moving his lips and almost falling out of the jeep in the movie "Aradhana".
It is time to reveal a secret after so many years. It wasn't an Alistair MacLean book at all. Only the cover was from Alistair MacLean's "When Eight Bells Toll". Inside it, i was carrying a railway time-table. Many keen fans (such as those who ask such questions in the first place) may have observed that I refer to a railway time-table in a subsequent scene. This railway time-table was that railway time-table.
As for the cover itself, it's from the Fontana paperback version of the book and shows a helicopter and a man in a diver's rubber suit in the foreground.
I hope that this settles the issue once and for all. I ought to know. I was there.
As to why nobody from the film unit revealed the secret until now, the reason is that we anticipated a lot of discussion on the question thirty years down the line from intelligent fans like you. Every fan counts towards the box office as you know.
I am sure at least one intelligent person from among you will now point out that Aradhana is not thirty years old. I am afraid I will not participate in the heated discussion that is bound to follow.
But my best wishes are with you.

Acknowledgements: Nilendu Misra. He did start the fire!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Enough is Enough. Bring Back Sourav!

And Laxman. And Kumble. And Zaheer.
And while we are it, might as well get John Wright back.

For more than one year, I am constantly being subjected to this Great World Cup Dream - where every thing is conspiring to make us win in West Indies.
A specialist opener is coming one down. Experiment to improve versatility.
The world's best player of the middle overs is opening. Experiment to make him last till the middle overs.
The pinch-hitter is coming in the 32nd over. Experiment to see if we can lift the ball with the field restrictions off.
Connecting flight between matches delayed. Experiment to improve patience.
Bombs go off in Bombay. Experiment to improve mental toughness.
Playboy all-rounder spotted with starlet in night-club. Experiment to improve stamina.
I am sure even the rains of Kuala Lampur happened at the behest of His Holiness Greg Chappell so that his wards can take some learning out of the clouds.


Don't we remember that Coca Cola ad? The one in the Eat Cricket Sleep Cricket series... in which an animated cricket fan delivers a monologue, "Kumble aur Srinath bhi match nikaal sakta hain, bhau. Yehich to hamara strategy hain... kaun bowler, kaun batsman last moment tak pata nahin chalta!"
This is what Indian cricket is all about. It is not about military discipline. It is not about complicated game plans.

It is about Srinath and Kumble lighting up Bangalore after top 8 batsmen packed up halfway.
It is about Kapil Dev scoring 175 coming in at 17/5.
It is about Sachin Tendulkar scoring back to back centuries to win a tournament against Australia.
It is about Chetan Sharma scoring a century.
It is about Sehwag winning a match with his bowling.
It is a team successfully defending 125 runs against Pakistan in Sharjah.
It is about two kids taking us to victory, after making the world's longest chase.

It is also about a team not making 120 runs to win a test.
It is about a team crumbling for 17 runs after Sachin Tendulkar departs.
It is about a team letting a batsman hit a 6 off the last ball of an one-dayer.
It is about a team which has 4 players in top 10 one-day batsmen of the world but has never been the top ranked one-day team.
It is a team which goes from breathtaking victory to mind-numbing defeat in a span of hours, nor days! And the other way round at the same speed.

We are a nation of cricket-crazy freaks, not for any other reason but that the game reinforces our belief in gods. We have never won because we trained harder or we strategised better than the others.
It is simply statistical... we are the populous nation in the world and hence we have produced more geniuses than anybody else. Starting from Farrokh Engineer to Pataudi Junior to B S Chandrasekhar to Krishnamachari Srikkanth to Mahendra Singh Dhoni - we have had more swashbucklers than the rest of the world put together... and these guys have taken us to adrenaline-laden victories.
Just as they had collapsed to give us suicide-inducing defeats.

To lead these mercurial mavericks, we don't need a solid, diligent first-bencher. We need an equally temperamental, psycho who will make the Aussies cringe at his name.
We never loved Dravid more than when he hit Allan Donald for a six over his head.
And then, he listened quietly to the abuses hurled by the bowler. We need a guy who would shout back, complain to the umpire and show enough dissent to be fined his next 6 match's fees. Who the f*** cares about the money anyways?

No offence meant to Dravid but the Indian captain should have a voice which is stronger than the coach's. The Indian team was always led by Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Azharuddin, Sachin, Sourav and the like. For better or for worse. Only now, it is being called Team Chappell.
Who is making them do army drills, shuffling the batting order, losing just as often as earlier and then calling it a grand plan for the World Cup.

I am not angry because India has lost today. I know we can still win the Champion's Trophy!
I am angry because it is being touted that we lost on purpose. To lull Australia into complacency. And then, defeating them at the World Cup.
What rubbish?

I think we should get a coach who gets the basics about fielding, running between the wickets and catching right.
We get a captain who makes Ricky Ponting wait for him at the toss.
And we get the world's most dependable batsman to do exactly that - dependable batting.

Where will we get these guys?
The coach is in New Zealand, living off the royalties of his autobiography. We go and tell him its time for a sequel.
The captain was cheering Sania Mirza on at the Sunfeast Open.
And the dependable batsman is doing the captain's job.

So, we open in West Indies with a line-up which can either bring us the Cup. Or come back after the round-robin matches.
Either way, people will die of heart-attacks, some bookies will earn millions, others will lose their pants, Pepsi & Coke will live beyond pesticides... and the whole bloody world will wonder India mein batsman kaun hain aur bowler kaun?

In the Name of the Father... Part Dunno

What is the male counterpart of Mad Momma?
Paagal Papa, I suppose... and that's what I have been for the last 16 days, 1 hour and 3 minutes!

He Who Must Be Named

Well, he has been named... Dyujoy Chaudhuri. And the reactions have been far from gratifying. Sample these:
"Is it a family conspiracy to have difficult names?"
"How do you spell that?"
"Ki shundor naam... kintu, maaney ki?"
Maaney holo "conqueror of heavens". And as of now, no precedents - mythological or literary - have been identified.

End of story? Not quite. Now, there is still this huge matter of finding a daak-naam for him. Dyujoy and all is very fine for his school-leaving certificates and bail application forms, but what will everybody call him?
And as several posts have propounded, the Bengali daak-naam is a mystery shrouded in an enigma behind theIron Curtain beyond the Solar System.

So, to avoid any prolonged debate and heart-burns thereof, I have decided to keep his daak naam in true Wikipedia style.
Open content. Anybody can come in and edit as long as it does not hurt the religious, political and social sensibilities of the parents.

Officially, the name is Joy. Though the grandparents have opted for a hip-and-happening DJ!

And I am freaking out... on various days, I have called him:
* Osama - the night of 11th Sept, when he bawled his lungs out to raze the twin towers of his mom & dad!
* Gangster - the day his behaviour did not allow us to watch the eponymous movie.
* Dalai - a dreamy, Oriental look usually associated with post-excretum ecstacy.
* Pantua - a creased, puckered-up look in which he sucks in air to let out a really horrendous howl and goes deep red like one.
* Dhumrolochan - literally, it should mean Smoky Eyes (I think). I must have read it in some book or the other but cannot remember where.

And as for affectionate names a parent can call a child, there cannot be a better example than the following untranslatable one...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Book Post

Psst... I have finished my work for the day. I am feeling guilty to go home right now. So, I forced a tag on myself!
Books always make the most feel-good blog topics. Actually, Hindi film trivia make the best. But, books are second best!

So, here goes from Dilnavaz's tag... and I will restrict myself to English books only. Not for any other reason except that I don't want to translate!
(Actually, I will do a separate post on the same tag for Bengali books later.)

One Book That Changed Your Life
Our Films, Their Films - Satyajit Ray.
Before this book, I thought Ray wrote detective stories for young people and had made a couple of pretty interesting films. After this book, he became a subject of life-long study and admiration.
Anybody who does not agree that Ray is the greatest film-maker in the world should read this book. If you still disagree, give me your address. I will come and kill you with a blunt instrument.

The Book You Have Read More Than Once
Kane and Abel - Jeffrey Archer. The Prodigal Daughter - Jeffrey Archer.
Actually, two books of a century-spanning saga, chronicling the enmity between William Kane and Abel Rosnovski - and then carrying on with the adventures of Abel's daughter (after marrying Kane's son) who takes a shot at US Presidency. You can open either of them at any page, read for 10 minutes, put down and feel happy.

The Book You Would Want On A Desert Island
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Box Set.
Hopefully, a deserted island does not mean one in which there's nothing to eat or drink - but one in which there is nobody else and hence nothing to do! So, as I wait for a rescue ship to come for me, I will go around with the world's smartest six-year old and his stuffed tiger. Trying to figure out which of them I am closer to.
And as a friend commented, I may have gone from Calvin to Calvin's dad in the last one week!

One Book That Made You Laugh
Swami and Friends - R K Narayan.
The gang of boys from Malgudi could well have been from Maniktala. Albert Mission School could well have St Lawrence. And when I laugh at W S Swaminathan, I am actually laughing at myself!

One Book That Made You Cry
Problems in Physics - I. E. Irodov.
This is de rigeur for any IIT aspirant and I recall, this book went out of stock in Calcutta in the mad rush! I - unfortunately - bought the book way too early and had to suffer it for two years of preparation for IIT. And all I got for my troubles was a rank which was longer than the pin-code of Kanpur.

One Book That You Wish You Had Written
The Class - Erich Segal.
The life and times of five Harvard graduates are so evocatively chronicled that I find almost exact matches with my cohort. And, of course - the character of Andrew Eliot is so close to me that it is almost unbelievable.

One Book You Wish Had Never Been Written
The Great Indian Dream - Arindam Chaudhuri.
No explanations required.

One Book You Are Currently Reading
Amitabh: The Making of a Superstar - Sushmita Dasgupta.
This lady decided that she has had enough of making up lies to go and watch movies. So, she went and convinced her PhD guide to let her analyse the impact of Amitabh Bachchan on Indian society. Now, she went and watched all movies on the pretext of doing research for her thesis! This book is a more reader-friendly version of the thesis - and eminently readable!

One Book You Have Been Meaning To Read
Sacred Games - Vikram Chandra.
I have postponed the purchase of the hard-cover edition because I might just drop this King Kong of a book on my six-day old son and squash him!

Now for the second tag... Here are the rules:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next three sentences. Include the book and author along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! Just pick whatever is closest.

The Life & Times of Miss Jane Marple - Anne Hart.
"Miss Marple was very fond of her son Roderick and had once helped him over a matter of money missing from a school locker. In 4.50 from Paddington, Elspeth cuts short a visit to Ceylon and help Jane unmask a murderer.
Besides 'Dear Raymond', the most important men in Miss Marple's life were officers of the law."
(Yes, yes, yes... After reading my plaintive cries, Nilendu has located this book for me - and sent it all the way from USA!)

I tag:
1. Udayan
2. Nilendu - he would do well not to do it on his Oracle blog but on my comments page.
3. Mad Momma

Sunday, September 10, 2006

So, how does it feel to be parents?

Like always, most of my life's lessons are found in Calvin & Hobbes... browsily sleepily (yes, up almost all of last night) through my collection today, I came across this one.
In its thought, it could not have been more apt!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The September 6 Kid

The mom shares her birthday with Sharon Stone and Osama bin Laden (snigger snigger!).
The dad shares his with Bryan Adams and Mahmoud of Ghazni (him too?).
But, the kid has managed to avoid the undesirable despots - and catch an entertainer of his own.
Roger Waters was born on 6th September too.

Since there was a slew of birthdays around the expected date of delivery, it was naturally expected that the kid would share its birthday with one of them. In fact, I subscribe to an unproved theory of traits getting shared by people who share birthdays.
So, the kid could have been born on the 5th of September - and been a fiercely independent spirit like Debanjana Chaudhuri.
Or, on the 9th - and been a diligent and dutiful person like Sameer Guha.
Or, on the 10th - and been fun-loving charmer like Arijit Lahiri.
Or, on the 11th - and been a study in humility and intelligence like Anirban Banerjee.
Instead, he chose to avoid all that - and have a date of his own.

And maybe a few years later, somebody else will hope that his kid is born on 6th September because of this guy... and that would be as much as I can hope for the tadpole, whom everybody is calling my son!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Anandabajar Ki Bollo?

The rains in Calcutta – like most places in India – make a much-celebrated appearance. Probably, a little more in Calcutta because it follows a stretch of mind-numbing humidity and also because, Bengalis are people who like to celebrate the smaller things in life!
On the day after the first shower – many monsoons ago – Anandabazar Patrika headlined its first page with “Prano bhoriye, trisha horiye…
Bengali readers would stand up from their respective seats and applaud this flourish. Non-Bengalis (including my wife!) would have to make do with my limping translation – Quenching thirst, Filling hearts – and the explanation that this is a line from one of the more famous rain-songs of Tagore.
Basically, there is something about the newspaper which headlines their first page with the first monsoon showers of the season. And comes up with a line, which deserves to go no lower than the first page lead.
Which is what Anandabazar Patrika is all about.

Maintaining a wonderful balance between journalism and literature, it has played an integral role in nurturing the mind of the Bengal over the last seven decades or so. In fact, its current advertising campaign runs with the punchline “Anandabazar ki bollo?” which means, “What did Anandabazar say?”.
This is so apt because a very large number of households in Calcutta, who are primarily English newspaper readers, buy a copy of Anandabazar on those special days – Mahalaya (the first day of the Durga Puja fortnight), the day Sourav Ganguly became the captain, the day Buddhadeb Bhattacharya became the Chief Minister, the day Satyajit Ray died, the day Brazil exited from the World Cup… because nobody chronicles the passions of Bengal better!

And talking of passions, it never runs higher than when you are discussing Sourav Ganguly.
Anandabazar has chronicled the rise (and fall) of Sourav like no other newspaper has ever done of any other sportsman. And the pride at Sourav’s peaks has been of such literary quality that anybody even remotely interested in cricket would be impressed at the chronicles.
The most memorable headline (on the first page, no less) was after the match (World Cup 1999) at Taunton where Dravid and Sourav had pummeled the Lankans in the process of helping themselves to countless world records.
The headline ran – “Sourabhmoi joyey Rahul sarathi”. Literally, Rahul Charioteer in a Fragrant Victory – which, apart from alluding to the famous charioteer of Mahabharata, also played on the word fragrance. (In Bengali, Sourav means fragrance.)
The match report was even more startling. It was a letter to Vinod Kambli!
Yes, it started off with “Dear Vinod” and went on to remind him about his tearful exit at the hands of the same Lankans in the 1996 World Cup. It told Kambli that he took up a place in the Indian squad thanks to his legendary friendship with Sachin Tendulkar, which caused another left-hander to twiddle his thumbs in the same city where he shed his tears. Questioning the sincerity of those tears, the letter went on to inform him that the same left-hander had clawed his way into the team and had taken revenge for that embarrassing defeat.
It was a complete match report – which left out no detail about the statistics, highlights and events of the game, but managed to pack in so much passion that it remains one of the best pieces of sports literature I have had the privilege of reading. Of course, I - along with countless others - had the pleasure of reading this after the pain of seeing an obese, out-of-form Kambli keeping Sourav out of the team on too many occasions.

In another example of bringing in unconnected set pieces, Anandabazar came up with a brilliant line – post Sourav’s marvelous 144 (at Brisbane in 2003-04). It said, “This 144 has effectively taken off the Section 144 on Sourav’s entry into cricketing greatness.” And the headline was again an alliterative gem – “Steve-r durgey Sourav-er Shapmochan” (Sourav shakes off his curse in Steve’s citadel!).
(BTW, the theme of the supporting article on that test on how grateful Calcuttans were planning to get some delectable sandesh over to Greg Chappell, for he was the man who coached Sourav before the test. Sigh, just three years back…)

As is obvious from the above examples, Anandabazar excels in a key aspect of journalism, which is the coining of catchy, punchy headlines.
The latest lovely of this genre came this year - on the day of state mourning in Bengal, when Zidane decided to send the Samba magicians home. In a display of symmetrical alliteration, Anandabazar headlined “Jiju-r Jadutey Shango Samba” (Jiju being the Bong transcription of Zizou!). Literally, Zizou's Sorcery Silences Samba.
The Bengali one sounds so much better, no?

One of the most celebrated examples of Anandabazar’s creativity in the whole mundane business of news gathering and reporting came about 16 years back.
26th August 1989, to be precise. It was the 300th anniversary of Calcutta’s birth and to celebrate, they produced a paper that was 300 years old.
There was a jacket of 4 pages around the normal newspaper of the day, which reported the landing of job Charnock on the banks of Sutanuti-Kolikata (“Sutanuti-r ghatey pher naamlen firnigi banik”). Apart from that, there were 8 more pages composed in the standard newspaper format.
On the lead story, there were reports of a press conference by Charnock, interviews with the Mughal subahdaar and the zamindar of Sutanuti as well as reactions from the East India Company. The French East India Company expressed anxieties of conflicts of interest in the future.
The business page had reports of the increasing trade in cotton, the possibilities of increased FDI (!) and how businessmen are collecting art.
The sports page had reports on cockfights and the betting trends thereof.
Other pages had reports of a kulin Brahmin getting married for the 35th time, centenary celebrations of Chandi-Mangal (a Bengali epic-poem) and lack of civic amenities in certain parts of the village. (While at it, even ITC has pitched in with an advertisement for enjoying the hookah!)
In its entirety, the issue is a triumph of creativity and resourcefulness – where drab historical research of a period has been recreated in the tangibility of a newspaper report. The recreation balances the challenges of historical accuracy along with entertainment well enough for readers to try and collect the issue 17 years after it came out!

In the meantime…
Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is voted the best Chief Minister in the country.
Suchitra Sen is being tipped to win the Dadasaheb Phalke.
Sourav is not selected for the Champions Trophy.
What is Anandabazar going to say?