Monday, March 31, 2008

A. N. Chaturvedi - In Memoriam

A. N. Chaturvedi was the father of my closest friend. He passed away on Saturday, after a brief struggle against cancer. It was detected too late to be treated. We knew he was sinking, but the loss is painful nevertheless.

He was the Director (Legal and Estate) of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan till recently, when his sons persuaded him to retire and spend time with his grandchildren.

Uncle, as I called him, was one of my favorite people. He was a great scholar, historian and philosopher, though you'd never suspect it. Unless someone asked him specifically to speak on history or philosophy, he would be content to listen to other people's conversations, never intervening or correcting anyone.

I would do just that. I would open a conversation, preferably something controversial, and then spar with Uncle for a while. But only for a short while because the depth of his knowledge was such that I couldn't hope to contradict him.

He had a gentle wit and could be quite humorous. His presentation of facts and events would always be in the form of a narrative or story, making it interesting. And he had quite a few unorthodox views on history. I won't get into them (they merit several posts of their own), but the common thread was the gentleness with which he argued his views.

His son and I loved dragging him into controversial territory and would try our best to get him to contradict himself. In ten years that I knew him, I never succeeded even once. He was crystal clear. And consistently good humored. I have never known him to lose his temper. Neither have his children.

He was fond of cricket too, and bet Rs. 100 on India, against his sons, every time there was a game. Whenever India lost (and we know how frequent that is) they would delight in harrying him for the hundred rupees and a great deal of fun was had by all.

I would keep presenting him books, which he would read and promptly return. "It was a gift, Uncle" I would tell him, but he believed that books were meant to be read, not stored. "Pass it along, Narendra", he would say, "I've got it stored here", tapping his temple. And it was well and truly stored. He had an amazing memory, almost photograghic.

The last thing I bought for him was a book called "A corner of a foreign field" by Ramachandra Guha, a delightful history of cricket in India. He was too unwell to read it and the book is still with me. It will remain with me for ever. Whenever I read it, I will remember you, uncle. And I will wish I could have discussed it with you. Rest in peace. You were one of a kind and it is my good fortune that I knew you.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stock Market Advice from Vyaas and Gautham

The script (because the camera work is so crappy. You see, Santosh Sivan was not available, for one reason or another)


V: And now, STOCK MARKET ADVICE from our chief investment analyst GAUTHAM SHENOY
G: Thank you.
V. Tell our viewers, Mr. Gautham, which way do you think the market is headed?
G. I think the market is definitely going up unless…..
V: Unless?
G: Unless it is headed down.
V : You mean….
G: I mean it's probably going to remain at current levels.
V: (confused).. I suppose that means you are advising investors to hold on to their investments
G: I'm advising them to watch cartoon network
V: (irritated) Now what connection does THAT have?
G: Cable connection
V: No, man, I mean, what does Cartoon Network have to do with the stock market?
G: You've watched "Road runner"?
V: Er.. Yes…
G: Does Wile E. Coyote try his best to catch the Road runner?
V: He does. So?
G: Does he ever manage to catch the road runner?
V: No
G: What happens to him?
V: He usually gets flattened or blown up. Or falls off mountains
G: Does he look happy
V: I guess not
G: But he keeps trying and trying and trying, doesn't he?
V: Yes. So what's your point?
G: The investor is Wile E Coyote. And the Road Runner is the money that he wants to make. He gets close, but never actually holds his prize. He keeps getting flattened in the process. AND HE NEVER GIVES UP!
V: So you're saying the investor should get out of the market?
G: That's exactly what I'm trying to tell the doofuses who're watching this program.
V: Or should we say doofii?
G: We should always say doofii. My mistake.
V: So what's the safest investment?
G: Listen carefully because I'm only going to say this once…
Look for a nice shady spot.
Dig a large pit
Keep your money in, wrapped in plastic and locked in a metal box
Fill the pit up.
And when people apply for the reliance energy IPO, Laugh like crazy.
V: Thank you Gautam Shenoy. Next time we'll get someone who makes more sense.
Like a donkey who's been sniffing laughing gas
G: You mean, George W. Bush?
V: I mean, George W. Bush

Monday, March 24, 2008

Intrepid AND Fearless

You know, I'm born to be a journalist. There's something about the profession, laying bare the hidden truth, exposing humanity's dark side, fostering change in society through exposure, that appeals to the human inside me. That is why I have decided to devote this post to the urgent and important topic of "Akshay finds lint in Shilpa's belly button". Of course it can't be done unless one is intrepid or fearless. Hence I have decided to become

Intrepid AND Fearless

Experienced readers might realize that, in the course of researching for my grand exposé, I might not have actually interviewed the worthies featured in this story or, for that matter, ensured any connection with the truth. Well, rest assured that this is standard in the journalism trade. Plus, both Akshay and Shilpa wouldn't give me time of the day anyway. Should that rob the public of a valuable news story? Of course not.

The incident happened during the shooting of the Action/Thriller/Drama/Comedy titled "Bakwaas - The Rubbish". Central to the plot of this movie is a dance number in which Akshay reveals, through artful lyrics, the extent of the villainy of the bad guy. An important step is when Akshay has to play the drums on Shilpa's stomach. And then, he sees the fuzz. At first, because he's getting old and has forgotten to wear his reading glasses, he thinks it's something the waxing person missed. But then he peers at it from arm's length and realizes that IT IS LINT.

Well, you can imagine what a shock Akshay must have had! It put him off the performance of a life-time, tipped until that moment to be India's entry to the Oscars. Feeling weak, he decided to cancel the shooting and take a two month vacation in Australia with his family.

Shilpa, poor thing, had a "Big Brother" moment and burst into tears. "What am I to DO?", she sobbed, inconsolably. Her mother, however, practical as ever, decided to add it to their collection, a large jar by now, and took the pragmatic view that the moment would soon pass and Shilpa would emerge stronger and more beautiful. Especially after the third nose job scheduled for later this month. (Third job, that is, same nose. Just clarifying, in this trade you have to be so careful of libel suits. At this rate, by the way, she's going to be looking like a Roman emperor).

Such, then, are the inner workings of the Bollywood film industry. A moot point at this juncture is why the hell we journalists call it Bollywood. This reporter has been to Yell Yay personally and seen a large sign which says "Hollywood". A similar search of Mumbai revealed no "Bollywood" sign. But that is topic for another deeply researched scoop. And only if the newspaper agrees to send me back to Yell Yay to reconfirm, personally, if the Hollywood sign is still standing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Further News from the Shenoy Household

If you can call it news, that is. I take shelter under the practice that established news channels and magazines follow of calling the reportage of incidents from the movie industry "news". (Hoo! A mouthful, that sentence. Maybe I'm really a middle aged pot bellied bureaucrat trapped in the body of a middle aged pot bellied engineer). My logic is, if "Akshay finds lint in Shilpa Shetty's belly button" is news, then so is old Narendra's "I ate at Dragon Maharaja's Chinese Cart and Survived". (End of apology. News begins)

*Breaking News!*I saw the movie "Race" last night. Actually, by the time I reached the movie hall, about half the movie was over, but you know how it is with Hindi movies. Like the human liver. A little bit can regenerate into the whole.

I know you're dying to know everything. Well, the movie is designed to appeal to young males with a love of fast cars, skimpily clad molls, loud and unsubtle humor, the complete absence of reality from the story, and an IQ of about 50. And with the possible exception of "young" and "love of fast cars", that's entirely me.

The plot is extremely convoluted and every one double crosses every one else. I lost the thread about 57 double crosses into the movie, but the Misses Katrina Kaif, Samira Reddy and Bipasha Basu kept prancing about the screen in outfits of great economy of fabric. My simple mind was easily occupied and it was not until much later (till I sat to write about it, in fact) that I realized that I knew next to nothing about the story line. Heartily recommended, unless of course your IQ is higher than 50. Also, the directness is endearing. Unlike Meena Kumari or Waheeda Rehman, who, when pining for the hero, would talk about dil, dard and pardesi, Katrina Kaif tells Saif Ali to "La La La La Touch me Touch me Touch me, La La La La Hold me Hold me Hold me, La La La La Kiss me Kiss me Kiss me, Oh ho ho, O ho ho". You will be happy to know that Saif gets the message instanter.

In other news, Gautham Shenoy feels that people should give their mountains names like "Bob Mountain" or "Tim Mountain". This observation was apparently inspired by the name of a mountain in Sri Lanka called "Piduruthalagala", which he has to remember for his exams.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hormonal Imbalances in the Shenoy household

One afternoon last week, the window panes in our little homestead rattled with an intensity which scared the pigeons sitting on the window sill into panic flight and made them deposit a little extra guano onto a hapless car parked below. Sheela had lost her temper.

For a change, the target was not me. Presumably because I wasn't there. The brunt of the charge was borne by young Gautham who, as is his usual practice when engaged in the completion of his homework, was playing a computer game called Death of the Zorks or something equally homicidal. Sheela stepped into the room and without waiting for explanations, gave it to him with both barrels. Gautham, unlike me, does not let points of order pass without debate. He vociferated, with a great deal of crying, that he had already finished his homework and Sheela of course promptly felt like dirt. She apologized to him and explained that she was feeling a little irritable right now. "Hormonal imbalance" she told him. Peace was signed, but now the young lad has a powerful weapon.

The other day, he told her that his notes were incomplete because he felt a little hormonal imbalance in class. And yesterday, he declined to do his homework because "my hormones are too imbalanced, amma".

Sheela realizes she has to do something about this. She is just holding on till she can stop laughing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The African Diaries - Zappa City

When writing a serious travelogue, one is always on the horns of a dilemma - does one dwell on specifics, providing local flavor at the risk of losing over-all perspective or is it better to give the reader a reliable general idea of the place and avoid the dynamics of change?

Luckily I'm not writing a serious travelogue. I've had too much Zappa for that. Ah, I see you are not familiar with that little tissue restorer. Well, Zappa is an aniseed liqueur that the manufacturers have, no doubt from the best of motives, colored blue. It is also several notches more concentrated than regular booze, causing a sudden disconnection in the circuitry responsible, among other things, for balanced and rational conversation.

Coming back to the Diary. Our hotel in Kampala, the Golf Course Hotel, turned out to be a lavish and well appointed place. It overlooks a Golf Course (duh) and I could spy, outside the starboard window, a portly white gentleman cussing like a trucker, his ball having gone where no ball had been before. Most picturesque. Panning the camera 180 degrees and into the room, the scene was one of raucous debate. For Tom had rounded up all his Ugandan friends and initiated revelry.

Amongst the invitees were a couple of party animals who found the Golf Course Hotel too tame for the red-blooded. They decided to relocate and presently I found myself ushered into an Irish Pub. I swear. The place was full of Mzungus which is Swahili for "White people", and like white people all over the world, they were dancing like something pulled out of a morgue and treated with electricity. Not happening, we decided, though I had taken a shine to an excellent beer called "Tusker", and further relocation was carried out.

The Kyoto bar, which we went to next, was a lot more lively. An elderly Mzungu, who had evidently been drinking stronger stuff than lemonade, decided to undress progressively while dancing. This livened up the place considerably, especially when a young lad who looked like a Filipino or Malay or something, decided to join him. Soon, matters reached a point where a substantially muscled member of the management regretfully decided to apply eviction and these two worthies urgently vacated the premises. But one of our friends who, it turned out was a part time DJ used his contacts to get the DJ to play Punjabi Bhangra music to a gathering which, with the exception of about a dozen of us, was ebony and ivory. To my great amazement, the entire crowd started gyrating to the beat and for the next hour or so, we had the "Oye Balle Balle" stuff that most of us have learnt to recognize and dread. And the Ebony and Ivory crowd? Danced like there was no tomorrow. All that you hear about India's cultural hegemony is true. Brown people shall inherit the world, amen, though the specific brown people are likely to be the ones connected with the movie business rather than those of us fiddling with computers.

And then, someone ushered me to the bar counter where there were little liqueur glasses filled to the brim with an ink blue liquid I later learnt was Zappa. Someone lit it with a lighter and asked me to extinguish it by placing my palm over the mouth of the glass. I did the needful and found that the glass had stuck to my palm. The flame drove out the air and caused a vacuum etc., though at the time, my problem solving skills were a bit beer impaired. Cool, I thought and yanking the glass off my palm, proceeded to guzzle its contents. "Whew! Strong stuff", I said but the rest of the entourage was busy taking the lead from me. Several rounds were repeated and I staggered out to occupy the dance floor which was mysteriously floating around.

I realize that I carry an enormous responsibility, being such a respected historian, but for some reason, all world events that happened in the next 8 hours are a mystery to me. You'll have to find someone else to fill you in on the developments in Iraq or the sub-prime crisis that happened during this period. But if you care to hear about my trip to the equator, drop in next week and

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The African Diaries - The Land of the Watermelon Smugglers Continued

The flight to Entebbe was uneventful, though the landing felt like we were riding a giant pogo stick. After hopping about on the runway for a bit, the old kangaroo imitator of a captain navigated us to the terminal. Immigration took hardly any time and we pushed off to the luggage conveyor. There I met my first Ugandan gujjubhai.

A spry old gentleman, sixtyish, but dressed like a teenager with low cut jeans, air nikes, everything. "You are India?" "Yes", I admitted, "I am India". "What you are doing in Uganda?". I love the directness of gujjubhais, even though it is a little disconcerting. I have been asked, among other things, the size of my undies ("you are wearing large, medium or small?"), whether I am "doing planning?" (using contraceptives), my income ("how much money you are making per month?") and many other things usually reserved for my spouse, my doctor or my accountant. This, amongst gujjubhais, is conversation, not confrontation. You are not expected to give answers (polite smiles and nods are perfectly acceptable) but if you do respond verbally, get ready for free advice.

By the time my luggage arrived, I learnt that my friend, Jitubhai Patel, was a major businessman in Kampala, that the hotel I was planning to check into was yujelayss, that I got a raw deal from Ethiopian Airlines, and that I would definitely contract malaria in Africa.

Thanking him for his valuable insights, we shuffled out of the airport and looked around for a friend of Tom's who was to have picked us up. Jitubhai, who was hanging around too, remarked that the flight was "before time", so we settled down and decided to watch the world go by.

The people are smartly dressed, I can tell you that! Regardless of their station in life, everyone seemed to be dressed for a party. The ladies were wearing off-shoulder dresses, halter necks, cleavage revealing tops, the kind of clothes you would find Nicole Kidman wearing on Oscar night. And they were all built like Serena Williams. I don't want to say they were big butted but if there is an international watermelon smuggling gang causing grave concern among policemen around the world, it is definitely headquartered in Uganda. Which is why I named it


Tomorrow, we will go around the streets of Kampala and find out what else they smuggle. For now, it is good bye from Uncle Naren, who inadvertently had a drop or two over the alloted quota last night at a party and has to make up for it by cooking lunch.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Joe Da Akbar

Yea, I saw this movie last night and I must admit I quite enjoyed it. It is a grand opus of some 120 crores of which 110 crores were paid to Hritik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai, 9.99995 crores to the sets, elephants, horses, other actors, the director, spot boys etc and about thirty seven rupees towards the actual plot.

Total eye-candy, Hritik and Aishwarya, the latter being so wooden in some scenes that they could have used a portrait of hers and no one would have known. But through most of the scenes, both the protagonists have done a great job and Hritik has put me personally in a tight spot. He has these rippling muscles which he displays at various times in the movies causing the missus to swoon and ask ME when I'm going to get pecs like that. Three months, I told her bravely, just give me three months, but she laughed sardonically and continued ogling at the said Roshan.

The plot is about 17 minutes long but judicious use of songs and languorous camera work stretch out the movie into a 220 minute opus. The missus kept pointing out the jewellery (its called jadhaav), the clothes (which are the rage with brides and grooms in Mumbai), Hrithik's muscles (I have reason to believe that his pectorals are actually two soup dishes turned upside down and painted over) and the language (more about this)

The language in Hindi movies is always difficult for Mumbaikars like me. Our forte is stuff like "Kayko Boam maar rahela hai?" which always freaks out the Delhi types. When people start saying "Tumhare muhabbat mein pareshan.." etc., the Mumbaikar in me starts feeling a little woozy. And Joe Da Akbar has some seriously heavy artillery where it comes to language. There was a song that went on about "chilman" which to the best of my knowledge is a clay pipe which junkies use to smoke cannabis. It behoves not for main stream cinema to contain such allusions. The missus contests my theory, of course, giving some tall claims about "chilman" being a curtain, but when I point out that she is from Mysore, you, the erudite reader, will agree that my knowledge of Urdu is superior.

All the same, the movie is heartily recommended. Akbar is portrayed as a kind and humane monarch who has the deductive logic skills of a beetle, thus getting Joe Da into trouble. But the story writer, who frankly is no Alfred Hitchcock, gets the mess cleaned up without raising anyone's heart rate by even a beat. What I really loved were the sets and the camera work, and of course H. Roshan, who has splendid personality, even when he is wearing clothes. Mrs. Bachhan is ok, but she has several cup sizes to go before she makes my pulse skip. And the music and choreography is wonderful.

The African Diaries - The Land of the Watermelon Smugglers

The Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa and Entebbe leaves Mumbai at 5.45 am, for which you have to report at 2.45 am, which is a time for feeling like a corpse. Everyone in the airport was behaving like a zombie. A particularly petrified specimen wearing a blue coat, peaked cap and wings on his lapels was wandering around like Frankenstein's monster. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. "Tom", I whispered, "is that our pilot?". "Gotta be" he said, nonchalantly "hardly any other flights taking off at this time". I tried hard to recall the Gayatri Mantra.

The lady at check-in asked us where our visas for Uganda were, and gave us a look of intense suspicion when we told her that it was visa on arrival. I sweated a bit under the collar because I just realized that all that we had was George's unsupported word for it. For all we knew, Uganda might be more paranoid than North Korea even, and I had visions of a Tom Hanks like existence in The Terminal. Then I spied her giving the same treatment to another doofus first timer and realized that this babe was the practical joker in chief there. A lot of high fives would be exchanged behind the check-in counter once the flight had taken off.

The flight was most pleasant. The stewardess fell for my looks and kept plying me with champagne. When I had landed at Addis five hours later, I was drunk as a lord. So were Tom and George and when they kissed us good-bye (the stewardesses, that is), they told us that we had to catch another plane to Entebbe. I realized, to my horror, that I had lost all sense of direction. And further horrors, so had messrs Tom and George. We spent the next hour staggering around Addis Ababa Bole airport. Finally, a kind soul took pity on us and shoved us onto a plane he swore was going to Entebbe. Actually, the sign said Kigali but this guy told us it was the same thing.

I sat next to a kindly old white woman who said she was going to Kigali. "You mean Entebbe", I said. "Oh no, Kigali. That's the capital of Rwanda". I spent the next hour trying to convey to Tom and George that we were being hijacked to a country where the idea of an evening's entertainment is a cosy little genocide. Well, the egg was on my face, because the flight was going to Kigali via Entebbe, where we were going to be ejected from the plane and secondly, the genocide thing is history. Rwanda is now one of the most stable countries in Africa.......

(the I.S. is yelling at me to knock it off and get some zzzzzs, it is 2 a.m, we just watched Jodha Akbar, by the way, but stay tuned. I am going to reveal a lot of Africa's dark secrets)