Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The One with The Jaw

In Sanskrit, Hanu means jaw or chin.
The Wind God's eldest son born to a female monkey, Anjana, was crazy enough as a child to think that Sun was actually a fruit. He made a leap towards the sun to eat it. Now, Mr Sun saw this upstart monkey and asked Indra for help. Mr Indra - not known for too much valour anyway - hurled his weapon (Vajra) towards this leaping monkey and KO'ed him. Our friend's jaw - hanu - was badly swollen even after Indra withdrew his weapon (thanks to the Wind God's asphyxiating boycott of the world).
And he became famous as The One With The Jaw - Hanuman.
Being the Wind God's son, he is also known Pavanputra and Maruti (son of Marut, another name for Vaayu). Anjana's son makes him Anjaneya. His thunderous strength makes him Bajrangbali. And his box-office clout makes The Return of Hanuman.
He has forty names like these, which are reverentially recited by bachelors and wrestlers among others.
That a child could be as naughty as to make a beeline for the Sun was quite unprecedented. In honour of this feat, naughty children are called Hanuman even today. (At least in Bengali. Am not sure of other languages.)

You would think that a god's fist on the jaw would reform him but Hanuman was a different kettle of fish altogether.
First things first, he was invincible and he knew that any attempt to harm him would mean an immediate boycott of the universe by his dad. Life without air can be really suffocating and people suffered Hanuman's mischiefs silently.
His favourite trick was apparently to disrupt yagnas and use his superpowers to leap out of sight. One of the sages (I forget the name) devised a ploy to stop him. He gave him a curse to forget his superpowers.
Now, this was really ingenious. No harm came to Hanuman and therefore it remained out of radar for Pavan. Since Hanuman himself forgot that he is capable of wielding a mean mace and leaping long distances, he never attempted any mischief that needed any of the above to escape from. So he became a simple monkey and generally hung around Sugreev around the monkey kingdom of Kishkindhya.
To cut a long story short, Hanuman was soon standing in front of a raging sea with a bunch of monkeys and two humans called Ram and Laxman. They knew that Ram's wife was abducted to an island beyond the sea but they wanted somebody to hop across and confirm it. Hanuman was whistling around the beach when a learned monkey (probably, Jambuban) realised he had made a leap for the Sun as a kid and jumping across Palk Strait would be a cakewalk for him!
So, he started reminding Hanuman about his prowess and egged him to take what was a small step for monkey and a giant leap for mankind. Hanuman had blissfully forgotten what he was capable of and only when Jambuban played the Karz theme on his guitar, did he remember!
The rest, as they say, is history!

Curses by the sages have been put to good use quite a few times in the epics.
There were these two blokes by the name of Nal and Neel - in the Monkey Army. When they were kids, they had the habit of - well - monkeying around. They used to attack yagnas, pick up the holy implements and utensils and throw them in the nearby rivers. The exasperated sages had to stop this sinking feeling and cursed them that anything they threw in the river would not sink!
Now, when the Bridge Over the Sea had to be constructed, this curse came to use. The Monkey Army used to go all over the place, uproot trees, collect boulders and hand them to these guys. They used to stand at the edge of the sea and throw all the stuff into it. True to their curse, nothing sank and the bridge got made!
A parallel story says that Nal and Neel were foster sons of Lord Vishwakarma (The Celestial Engineer) and had special expertise in construction and civil engineering. But I like the curse angle better!

Anyway, to get back to Hanuman, people would know that he is one of the 5 Immortals in Hindu mythology (along with Ashwathama, Balaram and two more Unforgettables whom I have forgotten). He continued his good work even in Mahabharat. 

Around the time Bheem married Hidimbaa (mother of Ghatotkoch), he was roaming in the forest and came across a feeble looking monkey lying under a tree. The monkey's tail was blocking his path. Never one to cross over a living being, Bheem asked the monkey (talking monkeys were as common then as Indian Mujahideen masterminds are now) to move his tail. The monkey asked him to move the tail himself as he was too feeble to do so. Bheem tried to lift the tail with his left hand but couldn't. Surprised, the mighty Paandav tried with his right hand and failed. Tried with both hands, went red in the face trying but still could not! At this point, he recognised the monkey to be some celestial being and asked for him to reveal his true identity. Hanuman appeared in his full glory and blessed his younger brother (both were sons of Pavan). 
Bheem - always planning his battles in advance - requested Hanu's help during the imminent battle with his cousins. Hanuman did not agree to physically participate but agreed to sit atop Arjun's chariot and let out blood-curdling cries to scare the Kaurav army. 

Question 1. Why did he want to sit atop Arjun's chariot and not Bheem's? 
Question 2. Wouldn't his screams have scared the Paandav army as much as the Kauravs? 
Question 3. Is this why Arjun is also called Kapidhwaj (The One with The Monkey as Pennant)? 

The answer to Question 3 is Yes. The first two are better unanswered. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Favourite Ads

One satisfying post deserves another. So, right after a post on my favourite Amul lines, I have decided to follow it up with my favourite TV commercials of all time. This was triggered by a very nice commercial of Max New York Life Insurance - Zyada Ka Iraada. Except for the fact that the storyline (fantastic), the message (good) and the jingle/punchline (very catchy) had no connection with the brand. I had to Google for the brand whose ad it is!

My choice of ads is dependent completely on their relevance to me at whatever life stage I saw them at. So, the soft drink ads are from the time I was in college. And the insurance ads are from the time I got married!
And I even managed to dig out most of the films from YouTube. So, enjoy!

Asian Paints - Mera wala blue
A couple is travelling in Rajasthan. They spot a local guy with a bright blue turban and the wife exclaims - "Mera wala blue". The husband asks the guy for his turban, which the gruff fellow refuses. A montage of scenes from the vibrant countryside of Rajasthan follows, as the couple follows their target. Eventually, the local gets into a pond for a bath and the husband comes up, quietly stealing the turban and replacing it with his baseball cap. Voice-over tells us how easy it is to check out an Asian Paints shade card for your dream colour.
Final scene - the Rajasthani enters a village gathering wearing the baseball cap as people look at him strangely. He adjusts it and smiles - Mharo wala cream!
Honourable Mentions: A wonderfully evocative campaign on the personal touches to a home (Har ghar kuch kehta hain) and a brilliantly inane campaign on their long-lasting external paints (Waah, Sunilbabu!)

Cadbury - Asli swaad zindagi ka
Turning the cliche of the chocolate-eating kid on its head was the montage of adults enjoying a Cadbury's Dairy Milk. The more famous commercial in this campaign was of the centurion batsman's dancing girlfriend but my favourite was this one depicting adults behaving as children - grandfather blowing bubbles, mom playing hopscotch, pregnant mom demanding chocolates, uncle playing football and my Aha moment - a man dropping his chocolate on the ground but picking it up, brushing it clean and eating it up.
Why shouldn't grown-ups eat chocolates too? After all, they also want to taste life at its sweetest!

Fevicol - Fevicol ka Jod
Close-up of what looks like a swath of Fevicol. VO: Dum lagake, haishsha! The camera zooms back slowly as the tugging VO continues. Eventually when the zoom is complete, we realise it is actually a relief map of India made out of swaths of Fevicol.
Final VO: Lagao, lagao... Yeh India ka mazboot jod hain. Tootega nahin. End with Fevicol logo.
What makes this good ad become absolutely memorable is the timing. This was released immediately after the Bombay blasts ('93) and Babri Masjid demolition ('92) when for a brief period, it looked like India might cave into to organised terror.

ICICI Prudential - Retirement, sirf kaam se
A young man wonders as he watches the rain and thinks about them. As the voice over lists down his thoughts, the visuals shows him doing them. I will not retire from my passions (posing against a sports car). From my dreams (on a foreign holiday with his family). From my habits (eyeing a young girl - ahem!). From my hobbies (gasping for breath during a trek). From my identity and responsibility (putting sindoor on his wife).
His phone rings. "Office" flashes on the screen. He puts it aside with a smile. I will not retire from life. Main retire hounga sirf apne kaam se.

Maruti Suzuki - Petrol khatm hi nahin hota
Vrrrroooommmm... A Sardar kid (arguably, the cutest species on Earth) in a yellow polka-dotted turban races his Maruti dinky car. Inside an aquarium. Under the table. On the bed. Under the dog's tail. On his father's tummy. Vrrrroooommmm. Eventually, his exasperated father says - Oye, bas kar puttar! And our hero replies - Ki kara, papa-ji? Petrol khatm hi nahin haunda!
Voice over tells us about India's most fuel-efficient cars.
Honourable Mentions: From the hard facts of the fuel efficiency of their cars, Maruti's latest corporate campaign takes a graceful leap into the hearts as they say what has been oh-so-true for the last three decades - India comes home in a Maruti. A beautiful, slice-of-life film, which makes us forget their nauseatingly horrendous Men Are Back campaign for the SX4.

Nike - Cricket

The mother of all traffic jams. A busload of cricketers getting more impatient than others. Eventually, one bowler comes out on the roof of the bus. A batsman follows. Slight curiosity. The bowler takes a run-up and delivers. The batsman swings. The ball lands in a balcony. Major commotion builds up. A boy from the balcony jumps on to a bus. Now, he takes a few strides and sends in a delivery. More people join in the fun, to the tune of a wonderfully peppy number. Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan - caught in the jam - have people falling over their cars, trying to field. Eventually, the traffic clears a bit and the vehicles start to move. Game over? Not quite - a youth takes his run-up and as he leaps in the air to deliver, the frame freezes. Nike - Just Do It.

Saffola - Kal Se

An exer-cycle is bought. Wife looks on proudly as slightly paunchy husband looks all set to get onto it. Hearing the cycle, she walks in only to see hubby on the couch and kid on the cycle! Background score says Kal se, re.... kal se, re... (to the tune of the Dil Se title song). Husband puts on running shoes. Relieved wife comes back a little later to see him fast asleep (wearing shoes). Eventually, he leaves home for a jog. Wife spots him in the park, eating bhelpuri. Voice over reminds how exercising always starts tomorrow but for a healthy heart, there's always Saffola.

Twins are born. The nurse comes out of the delivery room and looks for the father. He is not there. They are taken to the pandit for naamkaran. Father still not there. The pandit names them Ranjan and Manu. They grow up. Without a father. Their friends tease them. "Kahan hain tera baap?" A leery lala taunts their mother. "Kahan hain Ranjan Manu ka baap?" A neighbourhood uncle wants to marry the mother. "Lekin, aap nahin hain Manu Ranjan ka baap." Eventually, the mother cannot take it any more and tries to commit suicide. But noooooo! It is April 2008 AUR AA GAYA HAIN MANURANJAN KA BAAP - DLF INDIAN PREMIER LEAGUE!
Honourable Mentions: A wonderful set of promos on how Bollywood makes a deewana out of all of us.
And while we are at it, might as well add a promo of Zee Cinema, which is of the same genre.

Sprite - Bujhaye sirf pyaas, baki all bakwaas

A teenager walks alone on a beach. He sees a dude lounging around with a hot babe. Goes to a cold-drink counter and asks for a Sprite. He takes a swig and immediately, a gorgeous woman lands up right next to him. Pulsating music comes on. Beach volleyball happens, with all the women giving him come-hither looks. He is suddenly in the centre of a party, surrounded by a bevy of beauties and happily drinking Sprite. A tap on his shoulder - and it's all gone! The geriatric stall-owner saying, "Bhai-saab, paise?"
Voice over: Jaani, agar Sprite peene se itna kuch hota toh kya sirf saat rupyeh ka bikta? Pause. Sprite bujhaye pyaas, baki all bakwaas.

Times of India - Pakeya

A scream of jubilation goes up in a small town - Arre, Pakeya select ho gaye re! A gang of hockey-playing boys break into a jig. One of them hold up a newspaper - Prakash Mirajkar selected for Olympic Hockey Team. They requisition a band as the dancing procession makes way through bylanes to Pakeya's house. As Pakeya's parents also join in the celebrations, the paper is given to his grandfather. He takes out his broken glasses to read the headlines. Then, it takes Herculean effort on his part to get up and go into a store-room. From a trunk, he pulls out an ancient version of the same newspaper. The headline reads, "Mirajkar Dropped from Team". As the old man appreciates the poetic justice, he breaks into a jig himself. The caption comes on - A Day In the Life of India.
Honourable Mentions: A brilliant film on how files move in a government office, captured with the voice-over of a hockey commentary. Aamir Khan expressing his concerns about returning to Teach India.

If you have noticed - none of these ads have a celebrity in them. My next list would be my favourite celebrity commercials!
Watch this space...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Utterly Butterly

There has been a lot of uproar (2 comments, precisely) over my last post being too personal. But then, with an identified readership of 7, two disgruntled readers constitute very close to a majority. So, I have decided to go unabashedly mainstream and write on a topic which EVERYONE in India just loves - advertisements for Amul Butter!
Show me a guy who does not like that cute, chubby girl with hilarious puns and I will show you Raj Thackeray!

For a very long time in Calcutta, just one hoarding in the entire city (outside Minto Park) was reserved for Amul and if I did not pass the area for an extended period of time, I used to worry about the lines I was missing. One of the earliest ones I remember was a take on the Iskcon craze and it urged people to Hurry Home Hurry to Amul!

So, here is my attempt at playing to the galleries and list down my 10 Favourite Amul ad lines.

1. When Pat Cash defeated Ivan Lendl at the Wimbledon - Cash is Better than Czech.

2. After Maradona's performance at World Cup 86 - Marad 'ona to aisa hona / Butter hona to Amul hona.
But after he cried foul in World Cup 90, they turned the above line around and said - Marad 'ona? Phir Matha eus karo!

3. After the release of Shahenshah - Rich taste mein toh yeh sabke baap hote hain. Naam hain Amul-tabh Makkhan.

4. After Manmohan Desai's death - Amar, Akbar, Anthony aur Amul.

5. At the time of the Y2K problem - Y 2 K (Yes 2 Khana)

6. After Aamir Khan's singing debut - Khati kya? Makhan dala!

7. After Rabri Devi becoming the Bihar CM - Patni for Patna

8. On the promises of the 1991 General Elections - Roti, Kapdaa aur Makkhan.
(A famous ad agency once released their recruitmen ad with the headline - Roti, Kapdaa aur McCaan!)

9. After India won an ODI series, leading to a patriotic surge - One Day Mataram.

10. After the T20 World Cup victory - Anhoni ko Dhoni Karde.

The best lines are the one which took on a hot topic of the day and put a buttery twist to it. I came across a recent one on the 'net, which was a take on Kamalhaasan's latest film called Dasaavatharam. The headline was Dus Butterum and the sub-head said Kamaal ka Makkhan.

In fact, all the ads are now available on the Amul website.
One day, I will trawl through the entire list and expand my list. Because it is evident from the current list, all my favourite lines have a filmi bias and are from the mid 80s to the early 90s (which is as far my memory agrees to go).
So, what's your favourite Amul line?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bas Yul Hi...

If you are in a Calcutta college and do not know your Truffaut, Derrida and Guevera, then you might as well stick your head in a commode and pull the flush.
If you are in a Calcutta college and watch Hollywood films newer than 1972 (the year of The Godfather), then you might as well stick your head in an used commode and pull the flush.
If you are in a Calcutta college and confess to watching films by directors with surnames like Dhawan, Dhanoa and Dhariwal, then you might as well as stick your head in an used commode.
And don't pull the flush.

This post lists my contradictions most accurately for the simple reason that the writer shared exactly the same contradictions. Having watched Aankhen without blinking, we felt our thrill after watching Battleship Potemkin would look staged. After all, how many people know that Khotey Sikkey and Seven Samurai have identical storylines - simply because not many people have watched both the movies?

So, in order to rise in society, we decided to follow in the footsteps of several Bengali luminaries and form a Film Society. The objective of this club (which is different from this club) was for the members to get acquainted with the gems of world cinema. Iconic films like Citizen Kane, Rashomon, 400 Blows would be watched with like-minded friends, meaningful discussions would be had and minds would be enriched.

Nilendu and I were a shoo-in for memberships of any society of non-academic persuasion. And cinema was our certified passion.
Dito, now a doting father, was the Original Bengali Intellectual and he considered it his moral obligation to uplift the two of us from the Bollywood quagmire we were hellbent on sinking into.
Anirban was naturally curious about life, universe and anything. On top of that, he had the added advantage of knowing more than all his professors put together making it very easy for him to bunk classes.
Manas was chosen on the basis of his good looks. It helped to stand next to him in colleges and video parlours because the girls always slowed down.

We drew up a list of the iconic films encompassing Wells, Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut and several other titans of world cinema. Nilendu's suggestion of Paul Verhoeven was firmly turned down by Dito, much to my dismay.
We also zeroed in on Gupta Video (a video parlour par excellence, certified by GreatBong, no less!) as the fount of such wonderful films. The homework behind this decision was conducted by Nilendu (who was a regular there) as he claimed to have grilled the owners extensively and they seemed to have passed muster.
All of us had video players and the venue was expected to rotated. The Rs 10 rental for the video cassettes was expected to be shared.

The first screening (drumroll starts) of the club (drumroll continues) was of (drumroll reaches crescendo) Citizen Kane.

Dito read up on Orson Wells. I already knew about his War of the Worlds radio play. Nilendu got the tape and thought his duty was done. Anirban and Manas were having fun watching the three of us. We met at my place, complete with its Optonica VCR and exclusive TV room. The beginning was a little inauspicious, with a minor altercation between me and Manas over the payment of the rental. Actually, I almost physically ejected him because he took 13 seconds longer to take out the money.

When the movie started, we realised that the tape was the grainiest we had ever seen but soldiered on nevertheless. Anirban asked if the film was deliberately shot in a grainy style by the director since it was about the mysterious last words of Kane and the picture would become clearer as the mystery became clearer.

All in all, it was a wonderfully enriching experience. The film was gripping and Dito was able to fill in with details about William Hearst, low-angle photography and the Oscar ban. Despite having no prior knowledge of the film, I felt informed enough get into a wager with Dito on who played the title role and lost Rs 100 (which I have not paid up till date).

At this point (which was quite early, since we had seen only one film), we ran into a hurdle. Gupta Video's initial claim of being a treasure trove of world cinema started sounding seriously hollow. They had never heard of Fellini or Truffaut and gave us The Magnificent Seven when we wanted Seven Samurai. Even the usually confident Nilendu confessed that he had not seen any of the tapes but only heard assurances from the owners ("Shob achhey, dada. Aar na thakley aniye debo.") Apparently, the aniye debo was only restricted to titles which were a little objectionable to display in their cramped shelves. Obviously, they were unable to comprehend that five normal, college-going males would have cinematic interests beyond Samantha Fox (or at best, Shakti Samanta).
Anyway, we made a compromise and agreed to conentrate on the best of Hollywood since their collection was decent on that front. For European and Asian classics, we would fall back on Nandan and the college Film Society.

The next film chosen was The Graduate, at Anirban's house. It was decidedly a comedown from Kane but Anne Bancroft was a cut above Orson Wells.

As preparation, I went to Anirban's place and listened to a Best of Simon & Garfunkel album, with the mandatory ode to the married woman. He also made me listen to some band called Dire Straits, which was a song called Sultans of Swing. I remember wondering that the title is an apt description of Kapil Dev. Several years later, some sports magazine profiled Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis with the same title.

Anyway, to get back to the original plot, the film was most entertaining - though how Anne Bancroft could fall for a definitely mousy Dustin Hoffman was quite inexplicable. I still remember a nice touch in the film in which Benjamin is seen lounging by the poolside and when he dives into the pool (unable to take the heat), the scene cuts to him diving into Mrs Robinson's bed.

After this one, Nilendu and Dito wanted to explore the American Musical as a genre and proposed a few films. I - already grappling with the American accent in dialogues - felt songs in American English would be quite impossible to comprehend. In any case, if we wanted to watch a musical, we always had Sooraj Barjatya! Nilendu, however, had his sights trained solely on Rodgers & Hammerstein.
After an argumentative session which ran the entire gamut from My Fair Lady (vetoed by me, for being traumatised by it when I was younger) to Gigi (vetoed by all, we did not know how to pronounce it), we zeroed in on (muted drum roll) The King and I. An Oscar winning performance by the leading man clinched the deal.
Yul Bryner preceded Aamir Khan by some three decades but still was psychic enough to get the idea of shaving his head to get into the role. Dito again dutifully filled in details about how there was a craze for shaven heads in the US after this film released. But all these trivia did nothing to lift my deep sense of foreboding.
My worst fears were confirmed the moment Deborah Kerr broke into a song even before reaching the Thai immigration desk. And they never stopped after that.

Anna, Anna's son, the King, people with names like Ding Dong, Dipthong, Orkut, Chalukyamurthy were all straining their vocal chords beyond belief to sing for every single, frigging thing that they passed. Even when Yul Bryner asked Anna for a dance, he sang "Shall We Dance?" We were stunned speechless as our eardrums rang with dismay every time one more song came up.
We watched the film till the very end and we agreed that if the Americans gave more prizes to The King and I than Citizen Kane, then we are better off watching Satyajit Ray and Yash Chopra (both of whom make better musicals than whoever made the god-awful King).

Unable to bear the burden of such a monster bore, our Film Club died a premature death and we embraced Philistinism with a vengeance.
Dito went back to his brand of anti-Communist, anti-Capitalist, pseudo-Anarchist politics.

Anirban attended a few classes for comic relief and spent long hours hearing Ali Akbar Khan.

Manas was happy that he was far more handsome than Orson Wells, Dustin Hoffman or Yul Bryner.

Nilendu and I kept on watching films made by people as diverse as Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Prakash Mehra.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Karna is probably the only one in the Kaurav side of Mahabharat, who is considered to be a honourable man (no reference to Brutus intended).
Despite being a Duryodhan loyalist who called Draupadi a whore for sleeping with five men and who turned a blind eye to hajaar misdeeds, he is still considered a hero for not only having broken the fate of birth in a lower caste but also being the perfect friend and a man of honour.

Kunti got her boon from Durbasha (a sage known for his mercurial flitting between wrath and generosity) that she would be able to call any of the gods to sire a son for her. Now, why would this boon be useful to any woman married to an able-bodied king is a little beyond me. But given that Kunti's eventual husband (Pandu) was unable have sex (long story, kept for some other day), the boon became immensely handy.
Now there is a little doubt in the actual process of conception. Was it an immaculate conception, with the gods blessing Kunti with their sons? Or did it involve getting down and dirty (ahem) with them? In order to save myself from the wrath of Bajrang Dal activists, I will quickly progress.
So, right after getting the boon, Kunti summoned Surya and was blessed with a son, resplendent in the glory of the Sun god and factory-fitted with an armour (rendering him invincible). The unwed mother - obviously not having Neena Gupta as role model - abandoned the baby, who was picked up by Dhritarashtra's charioteer - a low-caste (suta) by the name of Adhirath.

All through his life, Karna was humiliated for his low-caste parentage (most often by the Paandavs) and his undying loyalty to Duryodhan was the result of the latter's hand of friendship. Of course, the Kaurav scion identified Karna to be a worthy adversary of Arjun and bought over Karna with his generosity.
In fact, the first time it happened when Arjun gave a spectacular demonstration of archery and challenged any one in the amphitheatre to a duel. In the crowd of cowering princes, Karna stood tall and accepted the challenge. He was asked by Kripacharya (Drona's brother-in-law and co-teacher of the princes) to name his lineage and kingdom since only princes were allowed to fight princes. Seeing the penniless Karna remain silent, Duryodhan immediately handed over the kingdom of Anga (present day Bhagalpur - bloody cheapster!) to Karna and tried to establish his royal status.
From here on, Karna was bound to Duryodhan in gratitude.
Though his 'royal' status did not wipe out his 'low-caste' background. The highest impact came during Draupadi's swayamvar, which was an archery contest designed by Krishna to ensure only Arjun would win. Karna tried his hand before Arjun, strung the bow and took aim perfectly before Draupadi spoke up and refused to marry a 'suta-putra'. This incident probably cemented Karna's hatred for Arjun even more.

Karna was surprisingly unlucky as well.
He was refused to be taught by Drona because of his low caste. The only other teacher of the martial arts was Parashuram, but he imparted his knowledge only to Brahmins. Karna pretended to be a Brahmin and enrolled with him. After the completion of a successful education, Parashuram fell asleep on Karna's lap and some insect bit Karna's thigh drawing blood in the process. Despite the excruciating pain, Karna did not even budge so that his teacher is not disturbed. When Parashuram woke up, he saw the blood and deduced that this ability to withstand pain could hardly be a Brahmin's forte. He called him a 'deceitful Kshatriya' and cursed him that he would forget all the teachings at the time he needed them most.
And the ill luck did not end here.
On his way back from the ashram, Karna mistook a cow for a deer and killed it. The brahmin who owned the cow, cursed him that his chariot would be rendered immobile when he would be fighting for his life.
So, Karna went into the battlefield of Kurukshetra knowing fully well that he would be without the use of his biggest strengths when he faced his strongest foe. Despite this knowledge, he gave himself a chance against the greatest archer of all times and took up arms for his friend.

Apart from bad luck, the pressure on him to make him fail against Arjun was immense. The elders like Bhishma and Drona openly backed their favourite against this low-caste outsider.
At the beginning of the battle, Bhishma realised that himself, Drona and Karna fighting together would be a force which the Paandavs would not be able to match. So, when he grouped the Kaurav army under the maharathis, Karna was not among them. When Karna asked him, he called him an ardha-rath (half a rathi) and said he did not deserve to command any of the battalions. Thus insulted, Karna refused to fight under Bhishma and took up arms only after Bhishma had fallen.
When Bhishma and Drona had both fallen, Karna was appointed the commander and he requested for Shalya to be his charioteer. Shalya was the uncle of the Paandavs and was known to be a charioteer par excellence. But when Shalya took over the reins, he actually did everything to demoralise Karna and undermine his confidence. His love for the Paandavs was so much that he tried his best to reduce Karna's capabilities on the battleground.
Taking on the greatest archer in the world with your own side opposing you is quite a task.

As a man of honour, he stood unparalleled (to the point of being stupid at worst and impractical at best).
His kabach-kundal (armour-earring) was a gift from his father (Surya) and made him invincible to mortal hands. Arjun's father (Indra) knew his son would not be able to breach this armour and decided to intervene.
Karna had a vow that when he did his surya-pranaam at dawn, he would never refuse anyone. Indra took this opportunity and appeared one morning before the war in the guise of an old beggar. And asked Karna to give him his armour.
Karna recognised the beggar to be Indra since no beggar would have any use for the armour. Despite seeing through the ploy to save Arjun, he handed over the armour. He also took the opportunity to ask Indra for the lethal Indraastra, a weapon which had no equal. He did this because he knew his earlier weapons would be forgotten when he engaged in the final showdown with Arjun.
Unfortunately for him, he could not preserve the weapon (one-time use only!) for Arjun. On the night when Jayadrath was killed, the two sides agreed to continue the battle after nightfall. A decision instigated by Krishna (to which Duryodhan agreed), it turned out to be a nightmare for the Kauravs. Because Ghatotkoch (half-rakshas son of Bheem) ascended to his true powers and ran roughshod over the Kaurav army. It seemed that he would finish off the battle in that one night and all weapons were ineffective on him. Duryodhan himself was almost killed by him. (Ghatotkoch spared him because of his father's vow to kill all the 100 brothers!). The only weapon that could have killed Ghatotkach was the Indraastra, which Karna was preserving for Arjun.
Duryodhan taunted Karna by saying that when the Kaurav camp would become barren, he would still be chasing Arjun with the weapon in his hand. Unable to see his friend's plight, Karna used the Indraastra to kill Ghatotkach. The weapon returned to Indra after its one use and Ghatotkach expanded himself several times his size before dying and crushed thousands of Kaurav soldiers to death! At this point, Krishna got down from his chariot and danced in joy. He told a grieving Bheem that Ghatotkach had done his biggest service by taking the blow that could have killed Arjun. Having seniors continue in the team at the cost of juniors is not a phenomenon restricted to BCCI alone!

On the eve of the battle, Kunti secretly met Karna and revealed his parentage. She offered to tell the world that Karna was the original Kaunteya (son of Kunti) and as the eldest Paandav, he had the rights to the throne of Hastinapur.
Karna told her that she had only one opportunity to reveal his parentage and that was when his challenge to fight Arjun was negated on grounds of low caste. That was the time she could have been courageous and won him over. Now, she was trying to entice him because she feared that the lives of her five sons were at threat. He assured her that he would not kill any of the brothers except Arjun and at the end of the battle, there would still be five Kaunteyas. Either of Karna and Arjun would survive the battle.

At the end of the battle, the Paandavs performed the last rites of all the elders but they turned away from the body of Karna. At that time, Kunti revealed the secret to the brothers. This caused terrible grief among them. The younger four were probably thinking, "Thanks to mom, we blew the chance of having a real dude as Big Bro instead of that gambling wimp". Yudhishthir (God only knows what he was thinking) was angered enough by Kunti's secretive nature to curse her (yes, his own mom!) and all the women in the world (talk about the blame game!) that they would never be able to keep a secret.
From then on, men and women both gossip but women get blamed for spilling the beans!

In the pantheon of heroes, Karna stands tall. He was defeated by Arjun (though by slightly dubious means). But ultimately, his honour and valour became apparent to all through legends and today, the number of people named Karan are as many as those who are named Arjun.
Karna and Indrajit are the only two 'losing' warriors from the Indian epics who have children named after them. Bibhishan, on the other hand, was on the winning side but we still label traitors by his name.
What interests you - instant victory or everlasting glory?

ASIDE 1 (Books): In Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel, we have a character called Mohammad Ali Karna, who was born to Kunti after an affair with a Greek called Helios. He went on to form the Karnistan when Ganga-ji (a cross between Gandhi and Bhishma) refused to elevate him in the Kaurav Party.

ASIDE 2 (Films)
: In Shyam Benegal's Kalyug, Shashi Kapoor plays Karan Singh, who rose from humble backgrounds to become the mainstay of Dhanraj in his business rivalry with his cousins (Dharmraj, Balraj and Bharatraj). He was shot by a supari killer, when he stopped on a highway to change tyres.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Zindagi Mein Koi Aarzoo...

Saw two things last week - an attempt to recreate Magick and an eclectic list. I am no rock fan, though I pretend sometimes! I don’t know Led Zepp from Pink Floyd. I felt very happy after seeing the Beatles’ Abbey Road studios only to be told that the Fab Four is not rock – damn!

But then, Rock On is not about rock. Neither are the 100 Greatest Guitar songs a monopoly of rock music. Rock On is about having a dream big enough to come back to it. And Bollywood music probably has a hundred great guitar performances – if not songs – that look like the real thing. Well, almost!

As I listed down the best Bollywood guitar songs, it became apparent that the guitar is never used to ‘play’ songs. It’s only there for the tashan! And I contemplated Rock On and unfulfilled promises, I was reminded of too many doctors and engineers who never did the things they were really fantastically good at.

Dev Anand stood in a fishing village and lip-synced one of Bollywood’s greatest songs. Hemant Kumar sang “Yeh raat yeh chandni” (Jaal) and Dev brushed fingers against a guitar, holding it like a Spartan holding a battering ram. The fakeness is in-your-face but with a song like that, any kind of guitar playing passes muster.

PKP was my classmate for twelve years. As a hobby and in art class, he produced stunning masterpieces – experimenting with form and medium. Those days, people who cracked JEE were not allowed to think of alternate careers. So, PKP is now a respected doctor, saving lives in Calcutta. Does a paintbrush still beckon him sometimes?

Zeenat Aman wore a gown with a slit from her toes to eternity as she serenaded Vijay Arora with a guitar she balanced between her legs. “Chura liya hain” remains one of the cult classics and nobody is really bothered that she never really ‘played’ the guitar. She and Asha Bhonsle played to the gallery!

YD’s handwriting was so good that I often got him to inscribe my name on new books. His design of his sister’s wedding card (preserved after 20 years) is a lesson in simplicity and imagination. He manages process quality in Indianapolis. When he looks at hideously designed books, does he itch to make them better?

Naseer Hussain had tons of guitar songs with Ranbir’s father leading the charge and Imran’s grand-uncle bringing up the rear. The world would have been a much worse place if the first bars of Humne tumko dekhaaa / Tumne humko dekhaaa did not end with Aisssaaayyy as Rishi orchestrated his ankle-length muffler and the guitar.

When BC sang the Gupi Gayin songs, we sounded like the original. In school concerts, his mellifluous voice was the saving grace. Always ready to sing risqué spoofs at picnics, he was a hit. He is now completing a doctorate at IIT Bombay. Would he ever walk up to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and ask for an audition?

Rishi Kapoor started off with mouth organs, graduated to dafflis, dabbled in guitars in Naseer Hussain films and beyond. In one of his best songs, he serenaded Mona D’Silva with a borrowed guitar. And to think, he did not even know her name. Only that she had eyes like the ocean (Saagar jaisi aankhon wali...).

AL had a snooker table in his drawing room. He also had an unfinished novel. A tale of pirates and MBAs, written in an easy-going style. An apparently slice-of-life story but with its twist, it resembled nothing written till date. When will he take time off from corporate banking and let David Godwin find him?

For three decades, Amitabh Bachchan pulverized villains, listened to his mother and scolded God to save the world. In the chaos, he forgot to play too much music (except an occasional mouth-organ) but made up for it when he burst on to Waterloo Station in Captain Sparrow gear and a double-necked guitar... Jhoom Barabar Jhoom!

UC is articulate (when he wants to). He is intelligent (even when he tries not to). If he got bothered about it, his interest, knowledge and analysis of cricket could have left Harsha Bhogle without a job. He whiles away time in investment banking. Will he ever call up ESPN and ask for a shot?

And that leaves us with the greatest guitar song of all times – Slash and Jimi Hendrix notwithstanding. A riff powerful enough to bring back memories of a past life. A story good enough to be reincarnated again and again. And lyrics that tell us about a beauty who was also a beast – Ek Haseena Thi...

But some of us take the plunge as well. PV, for example, chucked his post-MBA job and started composing full time. Ringtones, remixes, ad jingles, TV serials... even a bespoke song for my wife on our first anniversary! If we agree to think a little beyond Bollywood, this guy would have a chartbusting rock album.

With Rock On, Bollywood finally played the guitar the way it is supposed to be played. But as a film, it can only be called successful when a few real people switch off their computers at five and go home to jam with old friends. I am praying that I know some of these people.

Wishful thinking? But...

Aankhon mein jiske koi khwaab hain / Khush hain wohi jo thoda betaab hain

Zindagi mein koi aarzoo kijiye / Phir dekhiye...

Honton pe jiske koi toh geet hain / Woh haare bhi toh uski jeet hain

Dil mein jo geet hain gunguna lijiye / Phir dekhiye...

Khwaab buniye zaraa / Geet suniye zaraa

Phir dekhiye...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Teachers' Day

I have often wondered that would I say or do if I met Amitabh Bachchan?
Or for that matter, what I would do if met anybody I wanted to meet very badly?
Would I be able to impress them with witty comments? Would I have a sparkling conversation they would remember later? Would I make a fool of myself? Would I recognise them?
The last possibility never crossed my mind - till today morning.

To give a bit of a background, I have to go back about nineteen years when I was in love with my History teacher in Class IX.
Apart from being breathtakingly beautiful, she spoke exceedingly well and for the first time for me, she managed to make History interesting. She gave away reference books, told stories to bring the texts alive and despite setting tough exams, was the darling of the class. She had just joined our school and we were her first batch.

While on the subject of teachers in school, it would be apt to mention two more - Amit Dasgupta and Rajat Bhattacharya - without whom, I would have never realised I could write or that I could enjoy writing. These were the two guys who gave impossible essay topics, forced me to participate in creative writing contests and generally knew much more about my abilities than I did myself.
This blog is a direct result of their efforts to give their student something more than education. They gave me a lifetime of enjoyment.

Today, standing bleary-eyed in Delhi Airport at 5 AM, an extremely elegant lady did what has not happened to me for a very long time... she pronounced my full name perfectly.
That should have given me a hint but I refused to take it. And I could not recognise the one teacher I wanted to meet most after leaving school.
As she pointed out, it was a 'lovely' Teachers' Day gift I gave her!
But you will agree that her gift was fantastic. She identified a pot-bellied and slightly balding man to be the teenager she last met fifteen years back. A day could not have started any better than this.

Ma'am - I was tongue-tied then but did you realise that it's because I still haven't gotten over my crush? It is for moments like these that life needs a rewind button.

Happy Teachers' Day!

BTW, today is my sister's birthday as well. S Radhakrishnan and her - two more disparate people could not have been born on the same day!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


On the eve of Teachers' Day as well as the release of an eponymous film, it is in order to recount the story of one of the most famous teachers we know - one who has the country's most prestigious sports coaching award named after him.

This story is necessitated by people's request to write about that one sin committed by the King of Virtue, Yudhishthir. People in those times had strange notions of virtue. Gambling away your brothers and wife was considered to be perfectly within a day's work as was five brothers marrying the same woman to keep the mother's casual utterance truthful.

Anyway, the Kurukshetra war lasted for 18 days and the Kauravas were led by commanders in order of seniority - Bhishma, Drona, Karna and Shalya. Now, each one of these commanders were enough to chew up the Paandav army except for one hitch - the first two loved the Paandavs more than the Kauravas but had to fight against them to fulfil their duty to the Hastinapur throne.
Bhishma, for example, refused to kill any of the Paandav brothers in battle. Drona, after being defeated by Arjun in a duel during the war, shed tears of joy at his favourite student's skills. But despite this, they consumed thousands of Paandav warriors.
I think Bhishma lasted till the 10th day of the war, when he was killed by Arjun hidden behind Shikhandi (whom Bhishma recognised as a woman reborn and refused to attack).
Talk about the virtuous and valiant Paandavs!

Now, came Drona!
He presided over the killing of Abhimanyu and caused untold damage to the Paandav forces. He killed Draupadi's father (Drupad) as well. Seeing his valour, Krishna realised that it would be impossible to contain him as long as he was armed. So, he surmised that Drona needs to give up arms to be killed.
In order to do so, Krishna suggested spreading the rumour that Ashwathama (Drona's son and apple of his eye) had died. It spread and Bheem announced to Drona that Ashwathama had died. Drona refused to believe him and asked for Yudhishthir to confirm the news because he knew that the King of Virtue would never lie.
Bheem, in the meantime, had killed an elephant called Ashwathama and informed Yudi.
His conversation with Drona went something like this:
D: Yudi, is it true that Ashwathama has been killed?
Y: Yes. (Sound effect of victorious conches and trumpets). The elephant, I mean (sotto voce).
Hearing this news, Drona lost all will to live and dropped his weapons. Draupadi's brother, Dhrishtadyumna (Wow, what a name! Beats even Diptakirti and Dyujoy...) went and killed the defenceless prof (thus avenging his father's death).

This was the only 'sin' Yudishthir committed in his life. Prior to this, his chariot used to glide four fingers above the ground but after this fall from grace, it touched the ground. Also, because of this, before Yudhishthir was allowed entry into heaven (in his mortal body), he had to take a tour of hell (which is probably the shortest stay in hell for anybody).
When he was touring hell, he saw all his brothers, wife and many relatives there. Most of Kaurava clan was in heaven, he was told. Seeing this, he refused to go to heaven because he wanted to spend his afterlife with his near and dear ones.
Another brownie point scored, he was told that virtuous people with some bit of sinning spend a short period in hell before spending an eternity in heaven. Which is why the Paandavs were doing their T20 in hell before being sent up for the Test match. Kauravas, on the other hand, were doing the opposite.
Hearing this and completing punishment for his only sin, Dharma Raaj reached and afterlived happily ever after!

While we are at it, I might as well recount why Dhrishthadyumna killed Drona.
Drupad and Drona were childhood friends and swore undying loyalty to each other. However, Drupad grew up and inherited the throne of Panchal while Drona was at a bit of a loose end. So, he travelled to Panchal and asked for help from his childhood friends. Drupad - drunk on power - told him that friendship is possible between equals and he can give alms to a brahmin beggar but nothing else.
A furious Drona went away and reached Hastinapur, impressed the princes with his skills of archery and was appointed their Acharya. He was given a village (to be called Guru Gaon or Gurgaon in the future!) outside the city.
ASIDE: Since Panchal is the present-day West UP near Agra, you can imagine how much richer Drona became than Drupad!
Anyway, Drona taught the princes well - and Arjun excelled to become his star pupil. At the end of the training, Drona asked the princes to give him his gurudakshina - they had to capture Drupad alive.
The Kauravas tried first and were beaten back by the valiant Drupad. In true Bollywood tradition, Paandavs came next and the five brothers steamrolled the Panchal army, with Arjun capturing Drupad. When brought before Drona, he set Drupad free and took half his kingdom, thus formally becoming his equal. Drupad was totally humiliated but he accepted the offer and Drona's friendship. What else could he have done, anyway?
But once back in his kingdom, he performed a powerful yagna to give him progeny to slay Drona. From the fire of the yagna, out walked a son Dhrishtadyumna (with the pronouncement, "the son who will kill Drona") and a daughter Draupadi (with the pronouncement, "the daughter who will precipitate the war in which Drona will be killed").

Okay, that's enough... Read Wikipedia for other Mahabharat stories!