Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vintage Swapan

There are only a very few Indian journos who's articles i can't wait to read. One of them is Swapan Das Gupta.

In his latest avatar as a critique on Cricket, he uses his sharp writing acumen to make a statement on the recent IPL auction.

In his typical satirical style, Gupta says

To the purists, the sight of hard-nosed businessmen and Bollywood stars forking out some Rs 170 crore on celebrity cricketers was revolting. The custodians of good taste will doubtless detect similarities between the IPL auction and the bidding for gladiators by the notables of ancient Rome.

But here's that vintage Gupta shot - "...there will be more populist outrage at the effrontery of investing Rs 6 crore in M S Dhoni when indebted farmers are committing suicide next door. Eyebrows will also be raised at the logic of ignoring promising Indian talent for foreign has-beens. Why, yet others will ask, are we putting all our eggs in the cricket basket? Surely hockey, kabaddi and marbles deserve a break."

And keeps the best for the last ...

"Who cares if the whole thing is very bling - the hallmark of the arriviste? What matters is that cricket now belongs to India."

Monday, February 25, 2008


In the book, "From Midnight to Millennium" Shashi Tharoor ponders over a very simple question. "How can you best define India".

He further elaborates on how difficult it is for anyone to "box" India into one defining identity.

If you think of it, it's so true. We are not a monolithic lot. Even from a common "culture" thread POV we have as many cultures as people. A Kerelite Mallu is so different than a Punjabi in so many aspects and so on. Our food habits are different (In Kerela
you can actually order beef in restaurants), our attire is different,
not to mention language, food and traditions, within the larger Indian
... but basically you get the drift.

It's a complex but colorful mix we Indians are.

Recently i saw a very interesting BBC documentary on India. During the course of the doc one statement struck me. INDIA IS A 10,000 YEAR OLD EPIC.

Isn't that statement just awesome?

Note the commentator does not use term like civilization. He simply says EPIC.
India is like a 10,000 year old story that still continues to be told. That is a beautiful idea. Not a country, not a civilization, but a living

Keeping aside the romanticism and idealism of it all, it even makes simple sense to some extent. Like right from Harrappa and Mohen-jo-daro to Asoka and Maurya to Akbar and Shivaji to British and now the new emerging India agian,it is a story. Like Mahabharata, the world's oldest and grandest epic,India itself is a story. A story so full of drama and emotion and sacrifice and success and failure and adventure and deceit and honor and...
We are a "continuous" civilization. There have been great civilizations before us. Egyptians and Chinese and Romans etc. I think what differentiates India from these is its ever lasting nature.

Think of it. Gayatri Mantra was chanted more than 3,500 years ago. It is still a common practice to chant Gayatri Mantra in a very large population of the country. The mantra is not chanted for the heck of it on some "symbolic" occasions. It's actually a routine practice and very much an alive thing.

Bhagvad Gita is as old as India. But it still has an actual existence in the Indian hemisphere. Or for that matter Yoga. It has survived centuries and continues to flourish. That is that eternal nature to the Indian epic.It refuses to climax. It still is not a "lost civilization" by any stretch. Even with all the modernity it retains it's innate Indianness. It keeps adding while holding onto it's very rich past.

How many rituals from Egyptian or Roman empires are actually in practice today. How many of them are "alive". Not many i am sure. They got lost somewhere in the "transition" period of Empires. When new came, the old got lost.In India when new came, it got "updated" to India. It did not or could not completely remove the old India. There surely must be that durability factor to the Indianness.
We are ROOTED.

Nevertheless,the statement in that documentary gave me a satisfying feeling. Finally there was a way to define India in one simple sentence. "It's an epic"

I think i will hold on to it for a while.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Technology curve

1950,60,70 - Radio / Gramophone
1970 - Black and White TV
1980 - Colored TV, Telephone, Cassette
1985 - VCR, Walkman
1992 - Cable Television , Floppies
1995 - Windows / CD
1998 - Cell Phone / Internet / DVD
2003 - Google
2005 - iPod / GPS
2007 - iPhone / HD
2008 - Blue Ray

[ The list is more or less India middle class centric ]

'Shame on You' !

Mrs. Clinton has lost it. Not the election so far, but her mind, i mean. Such strong language is usually a sign of desperation. Her latest "Shame on you" outburst does not bode well for Dems in particular and America in general. Such aggression is pulling away support from her and by default taking Obama to a higher plane. He is coming out as the person who is above board on this.

Obama has conducted his campaign well so far. He is clearly the media favorite but at the same time he has not lost control. He has held himself together. That is a sign of political professionalism. I just took a casual survey of all the democrats in my office (most of them are btw) recently and found that Clinton was loosing 1:3. If my office is a microcosm of Democrats primary, its goodbye Hillary.

Hillary never could really recover from the first Caucus; the IOWA one. She was hoping for a cakewalk all along and was looking at super Tuesday as her day of Coronation. But the David-Obama had other ideas for the Goliath Clinton.

March 4 could be Clinton's dooms day. Of course she is not going to gracefully quit even if she looses and may take this fight up to the Convention. That means just 7 weeks before the election. That means the Dems will have just 7 weeks of preparation time to take on McCain who is no push over. That would be a total train wreck.

If i were a true Democrat, who desperately wants a break from Republican's rule at least for next 4 years, i would hope that the issue of nominee would be sorted out by Spring. Looking at the pattern so far, it seems unlikely that any one of the candidate will take a higher road and avoid the train wreck.

For now it's clearly "advantage GOP".

Friday, February 22, 2008

And My Argument continues ...

Don't always go by CONVENTIONAL WISDOM.

This article helps raise some valid points

Most Indians are fond of the Dems. But are we sure our interests are always aligned with them? The jury is still out.

I guess we need to be smart. Like China for instance. It does business with America on a professional level, whether its Bush or Clinton, Dems or Republicans. It does not bring its ideological baggage to the table.
You would think that since China is now the flag-bearer of Communism and Socialism, it would be a natural bed partner of the liberal Dems in the US. Think again. Think hard. China has had the best relations with US during the period of the "Red Necks". It's irony. But world is full of it.

Indians need to learn a lot from China. And specially this man whose hate for USA is legendary.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Miles Away from Ordinary

Just when we thought we had a "desi-free" trip; as in we found a no-Desi-to-be-seen tourist destination ... on the last day, we encountered one right at the top of the Diamond head crater in Honolulu, Hawai'i. This guy was a Marathi speaking guy (of all the people) from Nanded, Maharashtra (of all the places).
He was sitting on a chair on the top of the 760 feet altitude trail and distributing certificates for whoever completes the rigor of climbing that steep ordeal. He was speaking with his wife on his cell in Marathi. We thought he was a Mexican, but he turned out our very own Marathi Manus. May be he entered this country on his looks :)

Tom Friedman's world is flat after all. And Mr. Raj Thackrey ji - we do have Marathi Manus traveling a distance !

Anyways, Honolulu was just our last day stop of Hawaii. Maui was the real deal. The real stuff.
It was the glamorous Maui island that had the lion's share of our time. And thank goodness it was. For Maui is everything a dream vacation can be.

Our resort was out of the ordinary. A lush green landscape over the hills with tiny condos spread across acres of land overseeing the awesome Maui shores.

If the view from your room is like this, you don't mind spending through the nose, do you?

The management of the Resort was totally Japanese run. And thats when we realized how Hawaiian history is so closely related to Japan. Its not only about Pearl Harbour. There's more to Japan-Hawaii relation.

By the way, Tokyo is just 6 hours flight from Honolulu. It took us almost double the time to reach Hawaii from within the country, than it took for those Japanese tourists who had flocked the islands in hordes. No wonder everything in Hawaii has a Japanese translation. Like name of roads, menu list etc.

Our almost 4 days stay in Maui was spread in hitting the beaches and trying to see some "patel points". Although we did not go out of the way to "see everything". We took it light. It was not important. What was important was we relax. And we did just that most of the time.

In that sense Hawaii helped us make that paradigm shift in our vacation mentality. We did not go to "SEE" Hawaii. We went to enjoy Hawaii. So a simple sip of Mai Tai

over the sunset, was sometimes preferred over taking our car and driving all the way to Haleakala Crater.

But we did drive. We drove the entire Hana road drive, arguably the most picturesque drive i have ever taken. It was heavenly.
We missed not seeing the Hula dances, though. Sadly the slot was filled before we could book. We made up for it by hitting the beach again :). Everything was being done at Hawaiian time. A slow paced , non-deadline intensive agreement we had with ourselves.

Maui is probably the Golf capital of the world. Hundreds of Golf courses decorate the Maui shores. If for nothing else, i plan to take on Golf in coming years to have a chance to visit Maui again.
Maui also has some black sand beaches. This is not unique to Maui though and its pretty common in Hawaiian islands in general.

Amongst other things, we will associate Maui with following Hindi songs; we recorded these on a CD before going there. While driving through winding roads of Maui, we heard them again and again...

1. In Dino .... ( Metro..)
2. Taare Zameen Par... (Taare Zameen Par)
3. Apni Kismat ka tuhi guide .. (Hatrick)
4. Yeh Honsla... (Dor)
5. Deewangi Deewangi ... (OSO)

One thing you should definitely consider for Car rental in Hawaii - TAKE a GPS navigation. It will come handy. Thankfully our Budget car rental had a good one, the Garmin GPS that guided us through those very very complicated Hawaiian names. Like how do you remember the Kalakeaus and Kapuhuluas and Holikoas?

And finally some pics -

Sunset as seen from our Resort in Maui

Byodo-In, Japanese Temple, Honolulu

Wai'anapanapa, Black Sand Beach, Hana Highway, Maui

Ioa Needle Point, Maui

Another view from our Resort in Maui

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mentally Checked Out !

Just when i am so mentally checked out of my work and looking forward to my Hawaii trip, i get clobbered at my work. Suddenly my UI guy has gone missing. The Product guy who i need to catch up before i leave with is not reachable. It's as if everyone's collaborated to give me a hard time; just when i don't need it.

Murphy's Law. Or something like that !

Damn i hate this last minute firefighting. I so don't need that right now. I was literally finger nibbling last week with everything taken care of. The UK folks were happy, my director was cool and everything looked on target. I was ALL SET.
And then things started unravelling on Tuesday, just a couple of days before i am leaving. What the f...

Luckily my wife has taken over the last minute management of the trip. Taking printouts, maps, the usual travel preparation. I am loving her so much right now.

God damn this work. I don't care. I will simply disconnect. Thats' right. Disconnect. Let things take care of themselves. I am only ONE God damn person. I cannot do much. Yes Disconnect.That is the right word.

I couldn't care less. Drop dead you a******s. Go and book those conference rooms for what i care. And speak for hours about nothing substantial.

I am off to Maui............. heehaaahaaahaaaa....

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Do we have our basics right?

Everytime i am in India i get a feeling we have become too loud. Loud as in pompous. Yes we are growing at a rate higher than most countries, yes we have sparkling Malls and offices now to showpiece, yes we have a very energetic (often crass) gen-X that forms more than 60% of our population - yet for me there's something that is missing.

The word is Infrastructure. Any powerful country or a wannabe super power knows this or should know this. In my Impressions post i argued how the awesome road network of highways and express ways is the lifeline of American economy. It more than makes up for the lack of railways.

Recently France announced its new super duper fast AGV trains. This would reach 200+ mph at an average. Hypothetically if we were to do the same in India, Mumbai to Delhi would be in less than 4 hrs by trains. India has the basic infrastructure for railways in place. This was laid by the British almost 150 years ago. Yet have we grown on it? Have we "upgraded" it? There has been minimal progress in the way the trains run. Adding new "luxury trains" won't help much; except for flying in a few more tourists.

What is that we lack? I think the word again is "imagination". We have a choice in India to improve our infrastructure and invest in Roads, Railways and Ship yards. NDA government made great leaps in Roads part by laying out massive plans for Road development. Unfortunately it was booted out by media before it could go further on this. NDA was by far the best government as far as Infrastructure development and implementation was concerned.

Anyway UPA government should have carried on with the job half done by NDA. It chose politics over national interest. It chose appeasement over development.

Almost every impartial economic report on India that i have read in recent past has hammered on this "infrastructure" issue. WE NEED BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE. PERIOD.

In my recent trip to India i flew domestically a lot. Cochin-Mumbai-Nagpur -Delhi and so on. One thing that struck me was the increase in Air passenger traffic. There was "crowd" at the airport. There were constant announcements of flights. And definitely a greater choice. Yet i thought we needed to shake things up badly. There are more flights alright, but there is also more chaos. Flights are cheaper, but airports will be crumbling soon. We do not want to convert airports into ST stands.

Just by "privatizing" airports and airlines things won't change much. We need better railways. We need to invest heavily in Sea routes as well. Lot of traffic between Mumbai -Goa-South can be routed via Sea. We need better handling of passenger and cargo/freight traffic. Most of us know that Railway and Shipping industry work in tandem. Better railway network means faster input and output off dockyards.

We don't need more Nanos, we need more roads. We don't need more airlines, we need better airports, we don't need more Lalus, we need better and faster trains.

And yes we need more "Golden Quadrangles". Only two Chief Ministers have taken these steps as far as infrastructure development goes. Congress' s Sheila Dixit in New Delhi and BJP's Modi in Gujarat. We definitely need more Dixit's and Modi's and less and less of Sonia and Lalu please.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Sopranos

The Sopranos are pissed off after a FBI search in their house. But both parents want their children to know that it's all because they are Italians. They want to impress upon that they are being targetted for their ethnicity, their lineage.

The scene at the Dinner table after that -


Tony: You know the guy who invented telephone was an Italian!
Anthony Junior: You mean Graham Bell was an Italian?
Tony: ... you see thats the [beep] what i am talking off. They screwed that Italian and claimed Bell did it.
Anthony Jr : But Chinese invented the Fork.
Tony : What the [beep] are you talking. How can the people who need sticks to eat their food, invent Fork?


How can you not love this show :) ?

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Wordsmith called Pu La

"Aaho motaar chalu astana, vateth zar mahees alee, tar mahees marel nahi ta kay doodh dheel" - This incredible outburst of a fictional character of an imaginary situation created by PuLa Deshpande for his classic "Mhais" still cracks me up.

The marathon narration by PuLa of that eventful bus journey he undertakes along the curvy roads of Kokan region of southern Maharshtra has some of the most hilarious instances ever told. During this journey that is so full of events, PuLa interfaces with some of the most amusing characters ever.
The names of the characters he uses ring a sound of familiarity for people who know the Kokanastha community.

Mhais was a masterpiece. Period.

An imaginary ensemble of great and funny characters all riding the same bus. The Red colored Maharashtra government's "Yeshti".

There's the over-eager wannabe "English Guntlemun" - Madhu Manushte, there's the temperamental school teacher, there's the sophisticated homeopath, the burly and brute Havaldar, the i-care-a-damn bus driver, the over the top village folks, the subak thengani, the Usman sheth guy and so many freaking -ly funny characters.When you listen to "Mhais" you can actually picture those characters right in front of your eyes. Your mind relates to those figures almost as if you have seen them, have heard them, have been with them, somewhere.

The genius of PuLa was not narrating such a story; his genius was making it simple and digestible. "Mhais" is an example of extraordinarily smooth narration. PuLa knows exactly what words to use and when. He does not go on and on and knows when to take a break, when to build up a character or a moment, when to even end the whole episode. There's never a dull moment. The feeling - "enough already" never enters.

I have never really traveled much in Kokan, except for my one off trip to Chiplun some years ago, yet I can totally relate to "Mhais" who's entire premise has a Kokan background. The dialect, the slangs even the curses are very very Kokan [-astha]. In fact i belong to the exact opposite side of the region.

Yet PuLa with his un paralleled brilliance pulls this one off for all Marathi knowing janta.

PuLa Deshpande was the original stand up comedian as far as i am concerned. Maharshtra's very own Seinfeld , much before Seinfeld was born. His beautiful story telling abilities, finding humor in most troubled situations and pretty much riding the smooth narration with funny anecdotes are legendary in Marathi speaking folks.
His awesome, near genius, ability to convey and connect to people worked like a charm almost every time he went on a stage and started speaking. It was easy.

I keep repeating the word "smooth" here; and that's the closest i can think of him. He was smooth. Even in sarcasm he was not spiteful. That was this ability - to drill without sharp edges. His words, vocabulary and command over the language could not help but make you wonder in awe. He elevated your senses to realm of humor. He almost always gave you a happy Six Flags ride.

I have heard many of his great essays, but for me "Mhais" remains a personal favorite.

If we ever get in a situation like how PuLa gets in "Mhais" we would be freaking out and pissed off with the damn situation. It takes a PuLa to find humor given the frustrating situation (although imaginary). At some level the journey, the people, the event, the lazy process of the police investigation; of it all in "Mhais" connected with me. I somehow tend to believe i *know* all those characters. I know "Bagu Nana", i know "Jampya Damle", i know the "diver", i know "Nana Phadnavis", i feel i know them all. To that extent i can even feel the pain in my butt of that bus journey. I can almost smell the "hapoos" !! It gets surreal after a point.
And again, i repeat, i was in no way remotely connected to Kokan. Like ever!

The reason could be that Humor can transcend region, race or any other domain; as i have previously argued. And PuLa had that incredible ability. His humor transcended a lot of layers. His simple use of words like for example "paanaachi bhakkam peenka" cut across all those layers i mentioned and cracked us up. His precise yet powerful insight into a common man's sensibilities should be a subject of study; that i seriously believe.

I don't have that cassette of "Mhais" anymore. I tried to get hold of it on youtube but without much luck. Although i did find some others that were just awesome.

My knowledge of Marathi Literature and it's personalities is pathetic. There's the "Limit tends to zero" in my case. But it's worth noting that even for a person like me with such limited knowledge, i can easily appreciate PuLa's prowess. That surely tells us something.

All great entertainers have one thing in common. They simply "connect" with a huge population. Be it Rajnikant, Amitabh Bachchan(at some point of time) or Sachin Tendulkar. The mass appeal factor is the common thread amongst these Champions. They are exceptional. They are masters of their fields. And although PuLa may not be in the same league as these people, he had a massive following. A massive following of ardent fans. A following that still craves for his books, his audio narrations, his essays. A following that almost felt like PuLa was "their own". A following that would sit around a small stereo and listen to him like small kids being told a story.

A following that will , as long as it lives, salute a man who was a talking magician.A magician of words. A Wordsmith