Thursday, May 31, 2007

United Colours of India

India’s complexity as a multi-cultural entity is probably much more than even a continent like Europe. A person from Tamil Nadu is so different in looks, attitudes and appearance from a person from, say, Punjab that one may happily spend one’s life ferreting out exceptions.
This also makes Indians inherently racist in a unique sort of way. We are racist towards our own countrymen! Having spent the last 8 years of my life in six mini-metros, I have been subjected to so many regional idiosyncrasies that I am now racist towards even Bengalis!
I felt, there are two specific themes that differentiate the various regions the most.

Auto / Taxi drivers
Drivers of hired public transport have always been second only to General Dyer in the Most Hated List of Indians. It is a confirmed fact this is the only one group of people on whom public opinion is unanimous and every Indian has at least 3 stories to prove the hypothesis.

How do auto/taxi drivers behave in different cities?
You are late for a flight. You are not flying Deccan so there is no chance of delay. You are in a cab and want it to go faster. You communicate the same to the driver. Boss, thoda jaldi / Swalpa bega banni / Kunjam speed, Guru / Dada, ektu taratari...

Following are the (translated) responses you will get in:
Bombay: Will you give me 50 bucks extra? (If you agree, you will either die in a road crash or reach ahead of time. No half measures for the Mumbaikar.)

Madras: Sir, there is a 40 km speed limit. If I go past that, they will impound my license, confiscate the vehicle and arrest you as per the new law passed by the new government on the 27th of last month. (Precise. Logical. Useless.)

Delhi: Haanji sir. Right away sir. Your wish is my command sir. (And you will miss the flight.)

Calcutta: (Loudly) Go in your own vehicle if you are in such a hurry. (Sotto voce) These people behave as if they have bought your soul by paying the hundred rupees cab fare. (No explanations required.)

Status Symbols
As some wise man said, “Everyone needs toys. Only the prices vary.” And what use are toys if you cannot flaunt them? After all, an arm candy is designed to be on the arm!

So, the candies of the regions are as follows…

Bachelor’s degree / IIT Rank / GRE Score / IIM graduated from / Company worked for / all of the above.
So you have wedding cards, which proclaim the wedding of Shivaramakrishnan Krishnamurthy (BE, IIT Madras / MS, Carnegie Mellon / Microsoft) to Santhanalakshmi Gopalakrishnan (BCom / CA / Ernst & Young). Of course, the groom is the son of Krishnamurthy Chengalvaryan (BA / HLL) and the bride is the daughter of Gopalakrishnan Satyamurthy (BE / TELCO).
If you notice the subtleties, only the blue-chip education & employment brands are highlighted.

Everybody here is known by the place they stay in. Ganpati Chawl in Borivali loses to Raheja Residency in Andheri loses to Sea Princess in Bandra loses to Samudra Mahal in Worli loses to Maker Towers in Cuffe Parade loses to NCPA penthouse on Nariman Point.
The food chain is perfectly defined and your bhao is absolutely proportional to your position on the same.
A completely-past-his-prime Prahlad Kakkar ends up giving the maximum number of sound bytes simply because he stays in the same building as Sachin Tendulkar and Aishwarya Rai.
Shah Rukh Khan was the king of box-office for several years before he purchased a house on Bandra Land’s End. It was only with Mannat that he was acknowledged to be the Badshah of Bollywood and not some riff-raff from Delhi.
Abhishek Bachchan may give superhits by the dozen but only after he moves into the rumoured flat in Bandra that he can be considered to be the inheritor to the mantle of the man who owns the most famous address in tinsel town. Not before!

If you don’t have them wheels, then you ain’t made it in this town, pardner!
Delhi is all about having a big car, bigger stereo, leather seats and alloy wheels to go with it. And while you are it, you might as well put in the ‘this car is backing up’ recorded message in an American drawl!
When India’s biggest star gets a Bentley in Bombay, it creates a furore in the press. A pony-tailed owner of dubious management schools in Delhi has one too! Nobody raises an eyebrow even. While millionaires many times over are hanging out of 9:40 Fast, every Tom, Dick and Harpreet is zipping around in a Honda City. Delhi is all about cars… the bigger, the better.
Think about it… Salman Khan is one of the biggest stars of India and all he can afford is a Pajero to crush pavement dwellers with. The son of a Delhi businessman does the same with a BMW.

Okay, everybody who has even read the name of this blog would know that I have more than a small soft spot for Calcutta. So, I was about to conclude that – for better or for worse – this is one city, which has risen above the material comforts of life and has eschewed status symbols. Plain living, high thinking and all that! I was wrong, after all…
There is this friend of mine who is a true blue Bong. He is perennially embarrassed about his high-paying job, his Bandra flat and generally all trappings of corporate success. So, I thought him to be quite incapable of flaunting symbols.
But the other day, he messaged me – “They have made me a Platinum Member.”
Even he has changed, I thought, as I messaged back – “Of what? The American Express credit card?”
“No, idiot”, he replied, “The Fabmall Book Club.”

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Putdownable: Bestsellers I Never Managed to Finish

Some witty soul (must be Mark Twain) had once commented that a classic is ‘a book no one reads but everyone praises’. I believed this quite strongly as I could not fathom how people have actually read Ulysses or War and Peace without dying of boredom or getting squashed by the book!
Ulysses has topped virtually every poll of unread books, followed very closely by A Brief History of Time. Just for the record, I just loved the latter.

ASIDE: In a recent poll, however, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire topped the list. Of the readers polled, the largest percentage said that they had not read HP4. This is, of course, completely faulty reasoning. Because if out of 100 readers surveyed, 50 have not read HP, they form an infinitesimal percentage of the books actually sold. On the other hand, if out of the same 100 readers, 30 have not read Ulysses, then that means none of the people who have bought a copy have read the book!

But I must confess that there have been several books that have topped every bestseller list in town which I have bought on reading spectacular reviews and even more spectacular blurbs – only to find them boring or incomprehensible or both!

Does this signify my lack of intelligence (yes, but that has been proved in more scientific ways as well), culture (maybe, my esoteric tastes in film are well documented) or effort (unlikely, because I have made serious efforts to read these books)?
So, whatever it is – these are my dust-gathering bestsellers!

A House for Mr Biswas – V S Naipaul
The Nobel Prize winning Sir Vidia’s magnum opus has been critically acclaimed, commercially successful and generally accepted as one of the most accomplished novels in modern time.
I started to read it after I read Naipaul’s very flattering opinion of Shatranj Ke Khiladi in which he compared the film to a Shakespearean drama.
A man marrying beyond himself and trying to build a house to prove himself to his in-laws is not goggle-eyed stuff but then hey! Thirty pages down, I was wondering whether I got the right book or not. Fifty pages down, I was regretting not buying the screenplay of Seven Samurai instead. And I never got to hundred pages.
Now, I regret that if I had not written my name on the flyleaf, I could have probably gifted the book to some classics-hungry fellow somewhere!

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
I have answered quiz questions on this. The first line – “Howard Roark stood naked at the edge of a cliff” – has been quoted in some many college quizzes that it is not funny. I have tentatively participated in discussions on Howard Roark’s influence on film characters. This discussion was started when someone had said Amitabh Bachchan’s character in Trishul was modeled after Roark. I was very interested in knowing on which page of the novel does the hero go with an ambulance to attack the baddies!
He didn’t. So I have not read the book.
By all accounts, the book is an entertaining and easy read but some arbit circuit in my brain just shorts out whenever I have tried to read it.

Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Again, I know every bit of trivia about this book and its film. But Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara’s epic romance in the backdrop of the American Civil War just fizzled out despite having all the ingredients of a page-turner.
Actually, romance of a spoilt rich girl with a handsome rake who would eventually leave her with a pithy quote is not something I would stay up nights for. On top of that, they made the movie longer than the novel and despite David O. Selznick’s opulent recreation of the sets & events, I happily fell asleep. And woke up to find that the movie has still not ended!
And now I am told it has been voted one of the Ten Best Novels of All Time. Frankly, I don’t give a damn!

Lord of the Rings – J R R Tolkien
I am sorry. I am sorry. I know I deserve to be given the bastinado and executed by garrote but what to do, all that Legolas and Gollum and Middle Earth just addled my minuscule brain.
All my friends (along with millions others) have read this book a million times. Not only that, they have enrolled themselves into discussion groups, fan clubs and even sent me quizzes to take part in (“Which LOTR character do you resemble most?”) but I remained the outsider.
I have tried reading the normal paperback version, the hardback version (in three parts and bigger fonts) just in case I hade developed an allergy for the small type but alas, nothing took me beyond the first ten pages!
And before you blindfold me, I have one more confession to make – I hated the movies too! Gggnnnggg…

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life – Kavya Vishwanathan
I bought the book because it was banned. I figured that there might be an outside chance of this book becoming a collectors’ item, which I can sell to buy the Seventh Harry Potter book. Well, it still hasn’t and we have only 61 days to go!
I knew I would not like the story about a nerdy girl’s attempt to be popular but I never realized I would hate it so as to not finish reading it. After all, how many clichés about NRI ambitions, teen fashion and college romances can you read? My wife – who is a Mills & Boon and Enid Blyton addict – expected both her favourites to meet but she hated it as well!
Maybe they should make the film – which can be touted as the Great Hollywood Debut of Deepika Padukone – so that more people can hate it!

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
A senior from school claimed that this book is the distillation of all the philosophy theories developed by humankind. To have read it is to have discovered the true meaning of life. Either he was ragging me or he was high on ganja (or both), but I did buy the book conned further by the claim of the huge number of copies sold on the cover.
A vague travelogue on a bike by a guy who obviously never managed to pick up any women despite having a reasonably snazzy bike, he tried to draw parallels between Oriental philosophy and spark plug replacement. I am guessing this from the cover because I never read beyond the first few soporific pages.

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
I was a little suspicious about this book since all of Bombay claimed to be reading it when they were stuck in their cars during the 2005 July floods. I mean, how good can a book be when you are forced to read it because you are surrounded in five feet of water for miles around you?
But the premise seemed very interesting – an Australian drug peddler gets involved in the Bombay underworld – and some very reliable people gave the book rave reviews. And it was surely the most visible title among the pirated books sold at traffic lights. So I bought it and even fought with my wife on who gets to read it first!
If there were gripping descriptions about the crime scene in Bombay and graphic accounts of the third degree torture that the author had to endure, then there was no indication of the same in the first hundred-odd pages. All they had were some touristy impressions of South Bombay’s cheap lodges, cheaper restaurants and cheapest drug peddlers.
Now Mira Nair is making a picture of the book starring Amitabh Bachchan and Johnny Depp. Maybe she will be able to sift out the good parts – like she did for The Namesake.

So, those were the skeletons in my closet… go ahead, sue me!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Real Life is Boring!

Wave Cinema has a baseline – Real life is boring. And they customize the copy of their ads to fit this line to the big release of the week. They usually come up with pretty witty ones but their latest is quite sensational!

You use bullets for your presentation.
You fire a print.
You shoot a mail.
Watch real life heroes fight with real bullets.
Shootout At Lokhandwala.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Flight Delayed. Inconvenience Regretted.

Spending several hours at assorted airports – reading statutory national security guidelines and browsing through out-of-date magazines – is certainly not good for mental stability. Long before deep vein thrombosis sets in, I will probably be in a padded cell somewhere with Jack Nicholson for company…

Some of the random thoughts I have...

Every airline brushes off delays with a callous ‘… due to late arrival of incoming aircraft’ as if it was not them and some other jerk operating that flight. Get real, guys – if your pilot was on strike (Indian), poached by other airlines (Deccan), too drunk to fly (Kingfisher) or still learning English (Spicejet) – then we have a right to know. Don’t bloody gloss over the details!

Nowadays, they make you take out all pocket stuff when you are manually frisked. Earlier it was just the cell phone, but now it has extended to all items remotely metallic (including metal bodied pens and chocolate wrappers with a foil base). So, what do they do with Bappi Lahiri? He has now graduated from wearing jewelry to wearing gold studded clothing. Do they realize Bappi Lahiri taking off his clothes in a public place means a bigger hazard than a mere bomb on a plane?

Air Deccan is hell-bent on attributing each one of their actions to cutting costs. It started with not allocating seats, which meant a sprint across the tarmac to avoid sitting in a non-reclining seat next to the toilet.
Now it is their request to passengers to not take away the life jacket from under the seats! Even to this perfectly legitimate request, they appended a squeaky cost rationale. “If you take away the jackets, then we will not be able to keep our fares low…”
It should have been “Bugger, that snazzy orange jacket was not brought from Palika Bazaar for a hundred bucks. It is a mandatory security requirement and anybody touching it will have their balls chopped off – low fare or not!”

On a related note, most of the low-cost airlines sing some sorry tune of cost-cutting. IndiGo requests the passengers to dump their garbage into the bag which the stewardess would bring around.
How much longer before standing passengers are allowed?

Indian’s congenital distrust for computers does not come across any clearer than at airports. If you have a ticket jacket printed on airline stationery, you are waved in. However, if you have an e-ticket, then ID proof is asked for. How does a ticket-jacket prove I am the person who the ticket claims me to be? And how does having an ID matching the name on a ticket preclude threats to national security. It is very unlikely that the next hijacker will travel by the name of O.B. Laden.

The placards with which people wait outside the airport make for interesting reading. The latest I remember was – COLD MAZUMDAR. Bongs do have a penchant for unusual names but this one took the bakery, I thought. He probably has a twin brother who is HOT! But when I came closer, two full stops indicated it was Col. D. Mazumdar who was being expected!
Bhudev Bhutalia was another one I remember… wonder how they teased him in college?

If you are a Sudoku buff, then the most irritating thing on a flight is clearly the half-done puzzle in the in-flight newspaper. Some idiot before you would have started to solve and given up mid-way leaving the area in a mess of crossed out numbers and doodles. So you are left with the task of asking for another Hindustan Times while holding a copy of the HT in your hand.
Jet stewardesses give you the ‘oh-you-poor-dyslexic-dear’ look while Indian head mistresses give you the ‘be-eccentric-in-your-own-home’ stare – both of which are equally distressing!

Indians (countrymen, not the airline) always ask. Even the most obvious questions (“Bhai-saab, yeh gaadi Kanpur jaa rahi hain na?”) – if not for the sake of confirmation, but for the comfort that one more bloke is making the same mistake as oneself!
So, you will have uncles and aunties always asking, “Is this Seat 13C?” before settling down in the seat which has been numbered in Arial font 24, Bold, Lit Up right at their eye level!
My excuse is that at a very early age, I was subjected to the story of how an uncle got into the wrong flight and only realized when the announcements were being made during the taxiing of the aircraft. If the flight number and destination are not written anywhere, I politely ask the gent who collects the boarding pass stubs… “This is for Lucknow, right?” Just in case…

Most international airlines have three classes – Economy, Business and First. In India, Economy is translated in Hindi as ‘Sadharan’, which actually means ‘General’. It should ideally be ‘Kifaayati’ – just to make us plebeians feel good that we are saving our companies lots of money by seating 3x3 and eating jeera-rice-and-crow-curry!
Kingfisher claimed for a while that they don’t need a First Class because their normal service is better than the business class of other airlines. But then, the lure of the CEO fare was too high and they started Kingfisher First, which promises to be extremely decadent. A friend – after seeing the figures of their stewardesses and the length of their skirts – has remarked the Kingfisher should rename their classes to ‘Family’ and ‘Adult’! The stewardesses in the ‘Adult’ class will wear bikinis… Mr Mallya, are you listening?

Travel from a small town to Delhi almost always means a celebrity co-passenger. My experiences include the following: Laloo Prasad Yadav (from Patna), Mohammed Kaif and the UP Ranji team, Amar Singh, Akhilesh Yadav (all from Lucknow) and Pranab Mukherjee (Calcutta).
In one tremendously lucky break, I had sat right behind Katrina Kaif on a flight to Bombay and even kicked her seat in excitement! She complained in a too-cute-to-be-true voice and I repeatedly assured her it would not happen again so she should not report me to Sallu!

Ahh... my flight has been announced.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What is Life? Zindagi Kya Hain?

What do Bollywood have to say about life? Here is a quick list of songs which define 'zindagi' as opposed to describing it. If I add the ones on what zindagi will be without you (Aandhi) and whether one should embrace zindagi or not (Sadma), then we are looking at 1733 songs here!

* Zindagi pyaar ka geet hain / Isse har dil ko gaana padega / Zindagi ghum ka sagar bhi hai / Hanske us paar jaana padega - Souten

* Zindagi ek safar hain suhana / Yahan kal kya ho kisne jaana - Andaz

* Zindagi ka safar, hain yeh kaisa safar / Koi samjha nahin, koi jaana nahin / Hain yeh kaisi dagar, chalte hain sab magar / Koi samjha nahin, koi jaana nahin - Safar

* Zindagi ek khel, koi pass koi fail / Khiladi hain koi, anadi hain koi - Seeta Aur Geeta

* Zindagi kaisi hain paheli haai / Kabhi to hansaye, kabhi yeh rulaye - Anand

* Zindagi hain ek juaa / Kabhi haar hi, kabhi jeet bhi / Yahan dushmanon ke bhid mein / Kabhi mil jayenge yaar bhi - Zindagi Ek Jua

Rajesh Khanna seems to be ruling the roost here with a 2/3rd majority. So, which one is your favourite zindagi song?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Is Bheja Fry as good as Andaz Apna Apna?

Just by asking this question, I am bestowing the first mentioned film an honour which is quite vertiginious in my books. As my long-suffering wife and Mad Momma would testify, I have always put AAA in the league of the greatest comedy films of all times. So, Bheja Fry - on first viewing - does show immense promise.

Never since Amitabh Bachchan in Shahenshah (or Lal Badshah or Sarkar) has one film depended so much on the lead player as BF does on Vinay Pathak. And the ex-VJ just gets into the skin of the author-backed character with the smoothness of Lata Mangeshkar singing 'Aayega Aanewala' in Mahal!

His scrapbook of 1733 songs describing his life ('meri kahani, sangeet ki zubani'), his Bhojpuri accent (as Madan Gopal Mohan of Naya Daur Productions producing Hamar Bhaujai Tohar Lugai), his commentary of connecting a phone call ("redial... ringing..."), his crinkly packet for the aforementioned scrapbook, his combination-locked briefcase are all so wonderfully silly that it takes your breath away!

As a film, I can poke a hundred holes in the characterisations, continuity and all that but when the basic premise is inane hilarity, then I guess all that becomes an academic exercise. All those just become a prop for Bharat Bhushan's (Vinay's character) gags!

And this is what most of the reviews I read did - and gave the film a middling to poor rating. But the guffaws in the theatre and the fact that it is one of the sleeper hits of the year underline the appreciation we have for the laughs it provides!

Bottomline, its hilarious... and especially priceless are the Bollywood music trivia Mr Bhushan throws at us. After all, what do you expect of a guy whose father was a fan of the eponymous actor and named his son after him?

So, we have two questions:
1. How many 'Aayega's are there in the song 'Aayega aanewala' from Mahal?
2. How many 'Chalte Chalte's are there in the song 'Chalte Chalte' from Pakeezah?
And did you think Calcutta Chromosome will just give away the answers from the film (28 and 44 times, respectively) without any sort of verification and research?
Well, I promptly went and re-listened to the two songs and while the latter answer matches perfectly, the first one seems to be different - at least in the version I downloaded. Each set of 'aayega' consists of 7 nos. and I could count only 3 such sets. But the logic of the answer is perfect and probably the full length song has 4 sets!

So, BF enters the league of the rare kind of films which not only entertains but also forces you to think!
Thoughts for the day:
How many 'chumma's are there in Jumma Chumma De De?
How many 'kajra's are there in Kajra Re?
And how many YAHOO's did the eponymous song in Junglee have?

Hey Vinay - is there a job somewhere which pays to answer these questions?

Mr & Mrs Ire

I did not get married because I said yes. I got married because I did not say no.

The first step in the process of a marriage was initiated when my parents were pretty much convinced that hopes of choosing a life partner for myself is remote, if not impossible.
So, I started noticing The Times of India coming to the house every Sunday but not all the 48 pages promised on the masthead seemed to be there. When I pointed this to my normally ‘conscious-consumer’ mother, I expected her to take the newspaper hawker to the cleaners. But she kind of murmured and changed the topic. Strange, I thought.
It was only when I opened my father’s desk drawer for some printing paper that I discovered a huge bunch of Times Matrimonials, with advertisements neatly highlighted and commented upon with my father’s customary thoroughness.

The second step was started with equal disregard to my wishes and shortlisted entries to the contest were contacted and offered a dekko of the prize (?) without informing the prize of any such activity. I was only instructed to be at home for the spectacles on certain evenings.
A fashion diva, an ambitious banker (whose uncle lectured us on menopause), a millionaire’s daughter all turned out to be wholly incompatible in terms of attitude (ours), aptitude (theirs) and affluence (ours) respectively. The last straw was a papa’s girl from Calcutta, whose dad insisted on accompanying her and me (when we were supposed to go on an ‘acquaintance’ meeting)!
My father became quite disgusted with the dithering of the Calcutta Bongs – and suddenly decided that only non-Calcutta women were worthy of being the dynasty’s daughter-in-law. So, out came the file from the non-Calcutta parents!
Here, I must digress to note the basic selection criterion for the shortlist. First – which eliminated about 95% of the entries – was the absolute grammatical correctness of the proposal letter. Only when this stringent test was passed, did the academic and astrological considerations come into play! And that usually managed to eliminate the other 5%.

So, the Delhi file was decidedly thin – to the point of having a sole proposal, from an English professor about her daughter. The daughter worked with the World Bank – so it stated in the first line of her qualifications. My father had immediate visions of having a Master in Economics (with Mathematics subsidiary) as his daughter-in-law and called the girl’s Calcutta-based aunt immediately.
On meeting, the uncle and aunt turned out to be real sweethearts, who liked and hated exactly the same groups of people in Calcutta’s club circuit as my parents. Despite being expert golfers, they were even appreciative of my father’s feeble efforts at golf! All in all, they decided that even if the proposal does not work out, a lifelong friendship was made. (Pressure Point #1: If you refuse to marry this girl, you will be depriving us of a great set of friends.)

Suddenly, I realized that I was relegated to the background as a hectic Calcutta visit was planned, all my tours put on hold, a buzz was generated, computerized astrological calculations made and elaborate get-togethers planned. I was later told that a mirror image of the same activities happened in Delhi.
After a point, I was instructed to introduce myself to the girl over e-mail. I described myself as honestly as I could and one of my friends predicted complete disaster. Fortunately, the girl either appreciated my honesty or mistook it for a great sense of humour. And we ended up chatting on Yahoo.
During one of these chats, the girl declared Bacardi (that too, neat!) to be her favourite drink and came up with a list of restaurants all over the country that would have warmed the cockles of even Vir Sanghvi’s heart! All in all, I figured that if she can hold a drink and talk about the squids of Mahesh Lunch Home, then it would not be a complete disaster to meet her over dinner.

Of course, I trudged back to Calcutta from Burdwan in torrential rains, got late, forgot to make reservations at the restaurant and turned up at her uncle’s house in floaters – all of which (in my own opinion or my father’s) was a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Anyway, she was hungry enough to brush off all my lame excuses and jump into the car.
And we found ourselves at Mainland China. My trepidation increased manifold when the girl refused to order a drink. Her rather dismissive attitude towards all forms of organisms, which proliferated outside the hallowed portals of St Stephens College, did nothing to alleviate my worst fears. Only when she authoritatively declared that we should stick to only starters and started ordering did I realize that we might have something going here.

I wish I could say the rest is history.

Note: I realised yesterday that its been almost five years since I met that girl, which is long enough for her to even predict what I will post about next. Her correct prediction will be my next post!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cine-Maa: A Mothers' Day Tribute

If one character distinguishes Hindi cinema from the rest of the world, then it is the Mother. No other country in the world has so many different variations on the mother-son relationship as in Bollywood.
So, here goes a list of the ‘categories’ of moms in Hindi cinema and the most famous moms!

Mother India
Starting with Nargis in the eponymous film, this is the self-righteous mother who puts nation, honour and duty before son. So, the son may have killed a guy double his size for her and may have brought her an apartment block but she would still give him up for greater good of society. Or worse, shoots him!
Nargis showed the way as he gunned down her dacoit son to save the honour of the village. The mother’s dilemma between love and duty was brilliantly articulated when Nirupa Roy (in Deewaar) handed over the gun to her police officer son and ‘blessed’ him – “Goli chalate waqt tere haath na kaanp jaaye…” and left for the temple immediately afterwards. “Ek aurat apna farz nibha chuki hain. Ab ek maa apni beta ka intezaar karne jaa rahi hain.
Agneepath’s mother (Rohini Hattangadi) was a watered-down version of this character as she was content in berating her son for his gangster ways and promptly forgiving him when he promised ‘to return to the village’.
This character received a 180-degree makeover in Aatish in which the mother (Tanuja, I think) defended her smuggler son’s (Sanjay Dutt) actions to her police officer son (a wimpy Atul Agnihotri), by pointing out that his elder brother’s criminal takings had funded his education and career.
MOM TRIVIA: Deven Varma in Khatta Meetha is shown as a guy desperate to get married. He sings a quirky song in the film - “Mummy O Mummy, tu kab saas banegi?”

Hip Mom
Reema Lagoo broke off her B-grade shackles and emerged as the nation’s coolest mother as Maine Pyar Kiya became the first movie to have a ‘mom’ instead of a ‘mother’. Here was a really cool lady who threw darts, was okay with a bob-cut (though not for her own daughter-in-law), actually mouthed the word ‘mini skirt’ and even dyed her hair. She was such a relief from the grey-haired, saintly souls that she had millions of similar roles to do after that one!
Farida Jalal of DDLJ was the other iconic representation of the Hip Mom – as she asked her daughter about her dream man and even egged her to elope! Her son-in-law was, of course, a chauvinistic wet blanket and he refused to run without the dad’s permission… Somebody slap him!
After these two, almost each one of the Chopra genre movies has had a variation of this kind of mom.
MOM TRIVIA: In the film Maa, Jaya Prada is killed after her baby is born and she hovers around her baby as a ghost and her pet Labrador Retriever takes care of the baby (by feeding him, rocking him to sleep etc).

Now, there are the moms who are after blood. It is usually the rebellious daughters-in-law’s blood – though property, villainous uncles and children from the husband’s earlier marriages bring about similar levels of dementia.
Aruna Irani in Beta had one such epic battle with her daughter-in-law (Madhuri Dixit) as the step-son (Anil Kapoor in the most undeserved title role of all times!) looked on, smiled foolishly, got torn between the two super-heroines and finally got poisoned before rising from the dead to save his mother!
Of course, in all such ‘social’ films, the mother never dies. She just reforms.
Bindu and Lalita Pawar are the most famous practitioners of this genre. As I have said before, Bindu’s role is Biwi Ho To Aisi is one of the greatest examples of unintended hilarity in Hindi cinema.
MOM TRIVIA: Mahesh Bhatt is yet to show a married mother in any of his films probably because his own mother was the ‘second’ wife of his father. Even a light romantic film like Aashiqui had this.

Tragedy Queens
These are the Single Moms – women who are punished for having sex before getting married. Actually they did get married in the eyes of God but that does not count. So, their object of affection either dies on them or deserts them after impregnating them on first attempt. (New parents, who have had the recent trauma of following ovulation cycles, would obviously want to hammer the screenwriter!)
They are left to a life of sacrifice and determination to bring up their sons (always sons!) so that they can roshan names or take badla! It was the former in the case of Aradhana as Sharmila’s son grew up to be yet another dashing Air Force pilot (in an iconic scene, described here). It was the latter in the case of Trishul as Waheeda’s son grew up to take on top industrialist RK Gupta for his mother’s humiliation (with a line like “Jisse apni maa jko roz thodi thodi marte dekha ho, usse maut se kya darna?").
Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili probably comes in this same category but nobody remembers anything from that film except the waterfall song!
MOM TRIVIA: Saawan Kumar Tak (of Souten fame) made a film initially called Mother 98 (because it was supposed to release that year) but was released as Mother some three years later! It had Rekha in the title role and the object of the game was to find out which of her three lovers was the father of her daughter. The contestants were Rakesh Roshan, Jeetendra and Randhir Kapoor.

Heartless Moms
These are the terrible mothers who abandon their families either on the provocation of evil relatives or (even worse!) for pursuing a career.
The desi version of Kramer Vs Kramer – Akele Hum Akele Tum – had Manisha Koirala leaving super-chauvinistic-really-atrocious hubby (Aamir Khan) to put fight for a film career. Just as Karisma Kapoor left Aamir (again!) in Raja Hindustani at the behest of her ‘evil’ mamaji. What’s with him? Even his real wife is rumoured to be leaving him!
But the Bollywood mom NEVER leaves her children. So each one of them came right back, sacrificing wealth and career to be with their brats!
Of course, these films are several years old. Now, with Google AdSense, you can be with your babies AND have a career! So, what if your AdSense banners are all about Harassed Husbands?

And finally, there is this one Filmi Mom – who is the reason why I wrote this post as well as why I could.
She still remembers dialogues from 1960’s films, laments that the quality of Stardust is not what it used to be and is really angry with Amitabh for not inviting Shah Rukh for Abhishek’s wedding. To say it in a filmi manner, “... aur khush kismati se woh meri maa hain.

Happy Mothers’ Day to all moms out there!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Calcutta 700029

I was born in North Calcutta and the years I spent there are the ones before the formation of coherent memory. But I would still be able to walk to my kindergarten school (Montessori Shishu Niketan), the market and most of the houses our friends and relatives stayed in. What I cannot do is to give directions or identify addresses simply because I never went anywhere without my mother or grandmother. So, while I still remember exactly where Jyoti Medico, Kesh Karu Saloon and Madhuban Restaurant are, I have no clue of the names of the roads they are located on.

It was in South Calcutta – where we had moved exactly a quarter century ago and I moved out about seven years ago – that I started navigating for myself. It was where I went to school, college and most of my movies within a span of two pin codes. Actually, I had to go a third one for my college.
I spent an inordinately happy time between the four boundaries of Gurusaday Road, Kasba Bridge, Dhakuria Bridge and Kalighat Metro Station. I ventured only sporadically beyond these to go to ‘shaheb-para’ occasionally and college even more occasionally!

And the memories of this part of Calcutta are endless…
* St Lawrence High School, where I spent 12 years of my life, met some of the most remarkable people I know and have only happy memories of.
* Kookie Jar, which is simply THE best confectionary shop in India.
* Priya Cinema, where I enjoyed watching films the most. Be it a terrible Anjaam or super hit Saajan or art house Titli, Priya was celluloid heaven.
* Bedwin, the roadside stall that expanded into a chain and still serves artery-cloggingly good mutton rolls!
* Dover Lane Music Conference, where I spent the most number of sleepless nights willingly.
* South Pole, a hole in the wall on Gariahat Road, which serves such amazing Mutton Kassa that I have to have it every time I go home.
* Lending libraries near Gol Park, which fed me Archies, Asterix and Ludlum in great quantities and never complained when I read full comic books standing in front of their stalls.
* Gupta Video for their Bud Spencer & Terence Hill collection to start with, for having a copy of Citizen Kane and for letting Dito have the cassette he wanted!
* Maddox Square Durga Puja, where the adda sessions seemed to go on for the entire four days of the Puja.
* Most of my friends' houses (Kochi and Bnaru, for example), where innumerable evenings were spent discussing life, universe and everything.

Pin-code 19 was where it started off and 29 is where we stay right now.
“We stay” can obviously be disputed because in the last four-odd years, I have lived in four cities and have had mailing addresses in nine different pin codes. But my ‘Permanent Address’ is still Calcutta 700029.
Wherever I stay for the rest of my life, that one thing is not going to change. The place I call home.

India will Survive...

I just loved the last line of Ramachandra Guha's book on India's history since Independence. (Italics mine)

"So long as the Constitution is not amended beyond recognition, so long as elections are held regularly and fairly and the ethos of secularism broadly prevails, so long as citizens can speak and write in the language of their choosing, so long as there is an integrated market and a moderately efficient civil service and army, and — lest I forget — so long as Hindi films are watched and their songs sung, India will survive."


Monday, May 07, 2007

The Long and Short of It

Pioneered by Daag: The Fire, the trend of having subtitles for Hindi films continues unabated. The latest - and probably the longest - is an Emraan Hashmi starrer. It is called The Train: Some Lines Should Never Be Crossed (38 letters).
So is it the longest Hindi film name ever? The other contenders are Andheri Raat Mein Diya Tere Haath Mein (32 letters) and Paap Ko Jalaa Kar Raakh Kar Doonga (28 letters).

So, any more contenders? Genuine Hindi film names longer than the above, preferably seen by more than a 100 people.
I am not allowing South Indian film names here because there is 1024 MB limit on the data I can have on Blogger! Of course, Sethu and Run are probably the shortest film names as well, coming from TN. Ah - the irony!

And while on the topic of long names for films, Johnson's Reach Presents Thoda Hain, Thode Ki Zaroorat Hain at 51 letters is the longest that a television serial had achieved. But if you believe the anchor of the newest music reality show, then we have a new winner in town - Hero Honda Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2007: Sangeet Ka Pratham Vishwayudh (59 letters)!

To go back a bit, one of the earliest ‘long words’ I came across was in my 1987 edition Guinness Book of World Records, which was the name of a ‘particular lung disease caused by the inhalation of fine silica dust’. The word was pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis weighing in at 45 letters. Of course, the ‘respiratory disease caused by pronouncing the above word’ is a different ball-game altogether!
Another long word - favoured by Satyajit Ray, no less - is floccinaucinihilipilification (29 letters), which is 'the act of estimating as worthless'. This probably means that we can use the word or a conjugated version in a sentence. Say, "The jeweller floccinaucinihilipilificated our family heirlooms". Not bad, huh?

As far as sportspersons are concerned, my preoccupation has been documented previously. P T Usha’s full name (35 letters) was every trivia buff’s dream as it upstaged Pele (Edson Arantes de Nascimento – a paltry 24).
Of the current crop, Sri Lankan cricketers rule the roost though asking their full names in quizzes is largely curtailed due to time constraints. I mean, if you ask the full names of Vaas and Dharmasena today, we will finish just in time for the 2011 World Cup! And Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas (52 letters) and Handunnettige Deepthi Priyantha Kumar Dharmasena (44 letters) would have retired by then!
The only other country to compete with these Big Berthas is India, where Erapalli Anantharao Srinivas Prasanna (34 letters) and Gundappa Ranganathan Vishwanath (29 letters) can come close. Brian Charles Lara and Ricky Ponting just pale into insignificance!

As far as place names are concerned, there seems to be a huge debate on whether the official name should be considered or the common name.
If it is the former, then Bangkok has an official name running into 167 letters. Whew!
This name thrashed the official name of Los Angeles, which is a mere 55 letters. But being the capital of showbiz, they managed get into Guinness Book for another record. Their common name - LA is only 3.6% of their official name - the lowest! If that is a record, then anything can be!
For the common name category, not only is there a town running into 58 letters, they have registered their name as a domain name (maximum permissible: 63 letters) and is claiming to be the longest ‘legitimate’ domain name as well.

What is an illegitimate domain name, you ask? Well, this and this are examples of those. Basically, anything that has been forcefully made or gibberish to fit 63 letters is not done! As if, that place name made immense sense! And if you are currently being treated for any mental disease, then you can get an email address at the latter domain name.

And finally, in a bit of an oxymoron, there is a Guinness category of the ‘longest abbreviation’ as well where a Russian monstrosity takes the dubious honour!
Closer home, I came across a promotion organized by Radio Mirchi where all students who have taken the Board exams this year would be eligible to attend a party at Café Coffee Day. And in an extension of other abbreviations like ICSE and CBSE, the event was called DSHGBEKPSKHY (Dus Din Ho Gaye Board Exams Ke, Party Sharty Kahan Hain Yaar?)!

Devastating, no?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pathey-Ghatey: Roadside Humour from Calcutta

Seen/heard around Calcutta, during a recent visit:

* Large number of billboards for Nola Restaurant (which is a new chain serving "food for every mood" or some such arbit line).
Apparently, it has been started by the Khadim Group. This means they know the meaning of word 'nola' in Bengali. Why the f*** did they not use that in the campaign?

* Signboard on the first floor of Shoppers' Stop, which is the ladies section: "Aastey, Ladies."

* On a programme on Radio Mirchi featuring a 'nyaka boudi' (who does a killer imitation of Moonmoon Sen) about the injuries to the Indian cricketers at the Calcutta camp: "Hoo Haa India korey elo, Hoo Haa Ouch korey ferot choley gelo..." (Came with Hoo Haa India, went back with Hoo Haa Ouch!)

Friday, May 04, 2007

60 Years of a State

When all of India is getting excited about the Golden Jubilee of our existence as a nation, West Bengal - in a naturally parochial manner - has pointed out that it is 60 years of our existence as a state as well.
For this occasion, Anandabazar Patrika had taken out a special supplement (on Bengali New Year's Day) on the 60 defining events since Independence that have - in some way or other, for better or for worse - shaped the Bengali psyche of today.
Some of them have a national resonance and some would appeal only to a Bengali, but like all such lists, they generate enough fodder for long debates.

I am not sure if the text is protected by any copyright or such thing but am listing it anyway, with my observations. It is obviously quite long (60 momentous events!), so only people drunk on Bong nostalgia are advised to go forward.

1. Formation of West Bengal (15 August, 1947)
East Bengal became East Pakistan and the same language became separated by two passports. But on the lighter side, a Bangal (East Bengali) and a Ghoti (West Bengali) are way too different to start off with! Hilsa and prawns, East Bengal and Mohan Bagan, Padma and Ganga... the list is endless.

2. Refugee Colonies (1947)
Bijoygarh became the first refugee colony as millions of people crossed the border to start their life afresh in a new country, connected by the same history. Camps became colonies and huge tracts of land in South Calcutta became home to people from 'Opar Bangla'.

3. Damodar Valley Corporation operational (July 1948)
DVC tamed the almost annual occurence of the flooding of the Gangetic plains and the consequent devastation of lives. It came as a boon to large parts of the population, though the floods just moved upstream to parts of Bihar.

4. Sister Teresa starts Missionaries of Charity (August 1948)
The Vatican allowed a simple Sister to leave St Mary's convent and start a hospital for the destitute in one of the more unfortunate areas of Calcutta. She fought innumerable hardships and accusations to become the beacon of hope for the absolutely hopeless.

5. IIT Kharagpur starts (August 1951)
The first 'temple of modern India' started in the town with the longest railway platform in the world. And became the most revered Indian brand the world over. IIM graduates may command astronomical salaries but they are yet to be absorbed into mainstream global business as IITians. Proof? Dilbert does not have an IIM grad as a character yet. Asok is from IIT. Probably KGP.

6. Publication of Krittibash (August 1953)
Krittibash's reputation is that of the most influential poetry magazine - probably in any Indian language. Its list of luminary contributors - Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Tarapada Ray - was probably its least important aspect. It revolutionised poetry publication by two things - one, it was sold and never distributed free and two, it always paid its contributors. Given the 'subsidised' nature of most poetry practices, this was quite unprecedented.

7. Performance of Raktakarabi by Bohurupee (May 1954)
Shambhu Mitra's theatre group performed Tagore's dance drama Raktakarabi - and the new theatre movement of Bengal was born. Set design, lighting, ensemble acting - all reached a new high. There were many to follow. Girish Ghosh, Badal Sircar, Utpal Dutt. Evam Indrajit.

8. Pather Panchali wins at Cannes (May 1956)
Long before Lagaan tried to woo the foreign audience, a Bengali filmmaker made a film for less than the price of the red carpet at Cannes and became the benchmark other Indian directors could only aspire for.

9. Freight Equalisation policy implemented (1956)
With the freight equalisation policy, the Centre took away all incentives for manufcaturing companies to be located close to the mine-rich areas of West Bengal and Jharkhand. If there was one moment when the industrial advantage of Bengal was neutralised, it was this one.

10. Police open fire on agitation for food (September 1959)
Hunger forced people to take to the streets and the police opened fire to control them. The subsequent outrage probably forced the realisation that the state is responsible for feeding its citizens and 'right for food' is a fundamental right. This was the guiding principle behind the 'Green Revolution'.

11. Senate Hall of Calcutta University demolished (1960)
Senate Hall - a long cherished monument of historic and nostalgic significance - was demolished and Calcutta mourned the passing of an era.

12. Saptapadi releases (1961)
Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen were the greatest icons of celluloid romance - and their chemistry reached a peak with the release of Saptapadi. And the hysteria? Take NTR, Rajkumar and Rajnikanth. Add them up and multiply by 7. Only the colours were not as garish!

13. VIP Road opens
Calcutta's only brush with 'highway' for a long time, the long road connecting the airport with the city was so good that it was meant to be used only for VIPs. What was sprawling greenery on both sides of the road till quite recently is now the expansion of the city into its extended suburbs.

14. Tagore Birth Centenary (1961)
The greatest icon of Bengal - thanks to a cultural blitz by the state government - literally became a household name on his birth centenary. One of future landmarks of Calcutta - Rabindra Sadan - was inaugurated, innumerable cultural programmes organised, films & plays on his works made and economical editions of his works published.

15. Sino-Indian War (November 1962)
When China attacked India, it united the country in its first moment of crisis. In a state with a strong Left presence, there was clear evidence of divided loyalties.

16. Joint Entrance Examination starts (1962)
Two premier engineering colleges of Bengal - BE College and Jadavapur University - started to hold a common entrance test for their entrance and for generations of students, the Holy Grail had been identified. Just as not appearing for 'Joint' became the symbol of refusal to enter the rat race.

17. Ravi Shankar conquers West (1962)
The Beatles thought he was a genius. And the Western world followed suit. The sitar maestro gave Indian classical music to the Occident. And Norah Jones as well!

18. Police fire at farmers in Naxalbari (May 1967)
In a sleepy little hamlet of North Bengal, police opened fire at a group of agitating farmers and the ideology of that town transcended geographical borders and became the buzzword (brand?) of a particular kind of militant revolution. The spread of this Maoist revolution extended to students who rebelled against the bourgeois system and a generation rose to the call of 'Amar bari, tomar bari - Naxalbari Naxalbari'.

19. Gheraos not legal, but legitimate (1967)
In a landmark statement, the Labour Minister of West Bengal said that gherao as a protest mechanism may be used and the law & order machinery may just look the other way when it was being used. And thousands of students and labour unions took advantage. One of the many nails in the coffin of industry in Bengal.

20. Ganesh Pyne acknowledged as India's most talented artist (1969)
MF Hussain called Ganesh Pyne - hitherto unknown - the most talented artist in the country and the art world started to look East. Bikash Bhattacharya, Jogen Chaudhuri, Jamini Roy (with retrospective effect) were all later day beneficiaries of this man.

21. Bidhan Nagar established (1972)
Bidhan Nagar - later to expand into Salt Lake City - was the first suburb of Calcutta, providing planned urban development and the first radial movement of the city. Housing in abundance was provided and a large number moved.

22. Nizam introduces the 'roll'
The humble kabab in a paratha became the all-pervasive Bengali snack as not only did it provide economic nourishment to the teeming millions on the streets, it also provided employment opportunities to the 'entrepreneurs' who started their food businesses. An instant hit for both!

23. 'Congress goons killed by public rage' (March 1970)
That was the official version of the event in which CPIM workers walked into the Shnai household of Burdwan and murdered three Congress supporters. The law & order machinery remained a mute spectator, under then Home Minister - one Mr Jyoti Basu. The leader at that event continues to be a strong Left Front leader till now and his posturings over Nandigram remain alarming similar. Violent politics with state help is still not a thing of the past.

24. Ban intended for Prajapati / Bibar / Raat Bhor Brishti
The supposed liberal nature of Bengal received a jolt as novels purported to be 'obscene' were referred to the courts for being banned and the authors punished. The novelists and the intelligentsia defended the works as a faithful representation of the society. Fringes of the underworld could hardly be depicted without graphic usage of their language and milieu. It took long years of legal battles before the novels were free to be published.

25. Formation of Bangladesh (1971)
The Mukti Bahini - assisted by the Indian Army - won its independence from Pakistan. And 36 years later, they paid back by knocking us out of the World Cup!

26. The first star RJ (1971)
Srabanti Majumdar was the first ever star RJ - as she held sway over her AIR listenership, not only as show host but also as a jingle singer of repute for quarter of a century. And if you are still wondering who she is, remember 'Shurobhito Antiseptic cream - Boroline'? She's the voice!

27. Farakka Barrage operational (1975)
The Farakka barrage was used to increase the water flow into the Hooghly-Bhagirathi branch of the Ganga (as opposed to the Padma). Without this, the reduced water flow would not only have threatened the existence of Calcutta and Haldia ports, it would have severely affected the potability of drinking water for Calcutta. The economy of this region as well as parts of Jharkhand was saved by the barrage.

28. Calcutta Doordarshan starts transmission (August 1975)
Satyajit Ray agreed to be a part of it. (His Sadgati inaugurated the colour transmission.) Uttam Kumar never agreed to be any part of it. But with the Chitramala on Thursdays, Bengali film on Saturdays and Hindi on Sundays, evenings were never the same again! After all, we still remember Chhanda Sen - three decades after she started reading the news on TV.

29. Calcutta Book Fair starts (January 1976)
The Calcutta Book Fair started off with a handful of publishers in the Maidan. Today, it is the most major event of the culural calendar of the city. It is no longer restricted to books only. It is a celebration of arts, culture and life.

30. Jyoti Basu becomes Chief Minister (1977)
The world's longest elected Communist government got its most famous face as Mr Basu took oath. His two-decade rule was identified by pushing back the clock by about a century, professed concern for the farmers, an annual trip to London to 'get foreign investment' and the 'blunder' of not being allowed to be Prime Minister by his party.

31. Share croppers' right to tilled land (1977)
In one clean sweep, the Left Front made their base in rural Bengal invincible by bringing the rights of the share cropper on their tilled land. All such land needed to registered in the name of the share croppers as well as the landlord. Large tracts of land were registered to include their names. On the back of the 'Tebhaga' (in which the crop was divided between the landowner and the cropper in a 2:1 ratio), this was instrumental in securing the croppers' rights.

32. Majid Baskar appears in the Calcutta Football League (1978)
Majid Baskar - an Iranian - was the first foreigner to play in Calcutta and created a cult. Iran, Nigeria and lately Brazil have sent their second-stringers to India and they have been worshipped in country which is currently some 165th in the world.

33. Origin of Subaltern Studies (1982)
Ranajit Guha's book on the subject raised national and global interest for the first time - to understand the contributions of the lower-lying strata of society. Subaltern - as a word - has crept into our vocabulary as historians as well as sociologists delve into this further.

34. Ananda Margis killed (April 1982)
Some 17 Ananda Margis were killed in broad daylight by CPIM cadres - with no sign of any police during the incident. The Ananda Marg (a religious outfit) and the Left parties had a bitter relationship but this use of cadres to suppress them was probably a harbinger of greater use of the party machinery as the state machinery looked the other way.

35. Mamata Banerjee becomes MP (1984)
The biggest symbol of anti-Left agitation in the country entered the Parliament on the Indira Gandhi sympathy wave and never needed any other support to create a ruckus. From being at the receiving end of a police lathi to Singur, she has been an one-man rabble rouser against the Reds. As they said, West Bengal Congress had one he-man - and it's her!

36. English teaching discontinued from Class I (1984)
The mother tongue obsession reached sickening levels as English teaching was discontinued from Class I and for lakhs of goverment funded schools, ABC started in Class VI. An entire generation grew up completely proficient in their subjects but unable to prove it to interview panels out of the state.

37. Metro Rail starts operation (1984)
The work started before I was born. One leg was complete when I was in my teens. The full thing was complete when I was finishing college! Delhi's is better. Bombay's will be bigger. But remember, we were the first! When the rest of India's celebrities were sitting on beaches and riverbanks for Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, ours were coming out of Rabindra Sadan Metro Station!

38. Asian Paints Sharad Samman (1985)
Gattu became a part of the Great Durga Puja Jamboree as it started to award the best pujos in the city. Pujos started becoming more culture-conscious as Rabindrasangeet replaced Bollywood, vedic mantras and traditional idols made a comeback. Of course, there were aberrations. Like Gregasur, this year!

39. Publication of The Circle of Reason (1986)
Amitav Ghosh's debut was the first Bongo-Anglian novel and it was received with great acclaim. The Bengali literary vein found expression in English and it was followed up by Amit Chaudhuri, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Kunal Basu, Jhumpa Lahiri and their ilk.

40. First Bengali Soap Opera - 13 Parbon (May 1986)
Tero Parbon ran for only 39 episodes - in two lots. But it created the habit of serial-watching in Bengal. Social problems got solved by the US returned hero on a weekly basis as the state tuned in. Sabyasachi Chakrabarti who debuted in the lead role, is still a major star.

41. Gorkhaland agitation starts (1986)
The tranquil beauty of North Bengal was shattered as the state machinery tried to stop yet another partition of Bengali. Subhash Ghising's call for a separate state created turmoil and bloodshed, only to be brought to an end by a sharing power between the state and the Hill Council.

42. Auto rickshaws start plying on Calcutta roads (August 1986)
Unlike the other metros, Calcutta took a long while to adopt the three-legged vehicle. And when it did, it did it in its own inimitable style. The autos plied on fixed routes, broke every traffic rule in the book and contributed significantly to the nightmare of the Calcutta traffic!

43. Hope 86 (December 1986)
The Red Citadel beckoned and the Bombay film industry responded in full force. Ostensibly for flood relief, Hope 86 had Mithun and Sridevi dancing to hit music of the day as Jyoti Basu looked on indulgently. Crores were raised from the ticket sales even as the ruling party termed it 'apa-sanskriti' (anti-culture)! Of the partymen to have boycotted the show was one Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

44. Prasenjit's rise as Superstar (1987)
Prasenjit - son of Biswajit - became the unlikely superstar of Bengali cinema as he romanced, did 'action', did comedy and even produced movies to become the closest replace of an 'one-man industry'. His appeal was strictly restricted to the 'stalls' but the Bengali bhadralok woke up to the reality that Rituparno Ghosh is not what the 'market' wants. And in any case, Prasenjit acted in Rituparno's arthouse cinema as well!

45. Banks get computerised (1987)
After almost an entire lifetime of resisting inroduction of computers (for they were supposed to increase unemployment), the Left Front relented as the banks brought them in for use beyond data punching. It was not without teething problems as for several years, bank tellers cross-checked the balance on the computer screens with their calculators. And even now, this Bong counts the money dispensed by an ATM!

46. Vidyasagar Setu opens (October 1992)
The second Hooghly Bridge opened after an extended gestation period - and Calcutta woke up to a new vision of modernity. Leaving the city for a drive suddenly became easier as was reaching hitherto distant parts of Howrah.

47. Suman Chatterjee's Tomake Chaii releases (1992)
There was very little Bengali music beyond the genres of Tagore and Najrul. There was, of course, modern non-film music from the stalwarts but it was Suman's first album - Tomake Chaii - which brought the urban milieu, the modern angst and the political stand into the lyrics of the Bengali song. He spawned a whole list of inheritors as Anjan Dutta, Nachiketa and the like took off from Suman.

48. Sushmita Sen becomes Miss Universe (1994)
One more example of a Delhi girl being claimed by her 'mother state'. Her surname, her goggle-eyed excitement and her invocation of Kali on winning were all gleefully lapped up the Bengali bhadralok. Of course, the event eased the proof of the Bengali theory - if a global honour has to come to India, it has to come to a Bengali.

49. Mobile telephony starts (1995)
Jyoti Basu spoke to Sukh Ram (then Telecom Minister) and the hall applauded. Basu looked quizically and wondered what the big deal was? The big deal is apparent as about a decade later, Calcutta wonders (like the rest of the country) how life was before "Ami Rabindra Sadan-er shamney. Tui kothai?"

50. Durbar Mahila Samannay Committee formed (July 1995)
What started off as an AIDS prevention drive led to a committe for protection of the rights of one of the largest red light districts of the country. Sonagachhi's inhabitants came to be known as 'sex workers' and led to increased rights for them being a 'labour force'.

51. Operation Sunshine (November 1996)
A joint operation by the Calcutta Police and the Municipal Corporation, this was the eviction of illegal hawkers' stalls all over Calcutta. In an 'anti-votebank' action, the government reclaimed a public space and gave it back to the citizens. And Calcutta started walking on pavements again!

52. Amartya Sen wins Nobel Prize (October 1998)
If it had to come, it could have come to only one state. And the lineage of Amartay Sen was impaccable. He was in Harvard after Oxford after Cambridge after Presidency College after Shantiniketan. Oh - and he was named by Tagore, no less!

53. Bangla Band music has its first superhit (1999)
Bhumi's 'Barandai Roddur' (with its immensely hummable chorus 'Tomar Dekha Nai') was the first time rock-n-roll merged with the Bengali idiom and started a wonderful trend. Bengalis took to this with a gusto as bands like Parash Pathar, Chandrabindu and Cactus added a new dimension to the rich musical heritage of Bengal - you could dance to their music!

54. Sourav Ganguly becomes Indian cricket captain (February 2000)
Nobody symbolised the national selectors' apathy towards Bengal cricketers better than the Prince of Calcutta. And it was poetic justice that after he became captain, this 'quota candidate' was the most non-partisan of all Indian captains. Not to mention, the best.

55. Haldia Petrochemicals starts operation (April 2000)
Almost the sole representatition of investment during the two decades of Basu rule in Bengal, it went into action almost exactly when everybody had written it off.

56. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya becomes Chief Minister (May 2001)
After the moribund Basu rule, Brand Buddha took over and everybody was in a tizzy. The last six years saw more changes in the state than the previous sixty. Harnessing the state's intellectual power, the new CM wooed industry captains like never before and the results were there for all to see. Till two villages disagreed.

57. Salt Lake Sector V booms
Sector V became the hub of all major IT companies in the world as Mr Premji and Co realised it is far better to set up shop right in Calcutta instead of letting half their work force go on leave for a month every Pujo!

58. Forum Mall opens on Elgin Road (2003)
Calcutta finally left behind the days of 'Cholchhena Cholbena' and became 'happening' as the first mall-multiplex opened in Calcutta with Inox, Shoppers' Stop and Fabindia throwing open their gates to the comrades. If not anything else, Forum became a symbol of 'inverse snobbery' as hajaar people started claiming that they haven't been there!

59. Bandhs deemed unconstitutional & illegal (November 2004)
For the first time in Red Bengal, the Court ruled that the people (and the parties) will have to find other ways of protesting against the system. Stopping work would not do. Loopholes remain. In the ruling as well as in the common man's resolve to reach work if the bandh is on a Monday.

60. Singur-Nandigram boils (2007)
Industrialisation in India will continue to happen. But its proponents will have to take lessons from these two villages on how not to do it. The Tatas, the Ambanis and the rest were told in no uncertain terms that Bengal might be eager for investments, but on its own terms. Even the government cannot mess with people - politically motivated or otherwise - who don't want to toe their line.

A very exhaustive and reasonably representative list... now, let the debate begin!

UPDATE: As a continuation, read Nilendu's own list of 60 events relevant to the 30-something generation, broken down into Ups and Downs! (It's in three parts, all of which are linked above.)