Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Jaipur Re-Visited.

I remember leaving Jaipur very long, long ago
When I was too young to understand many things

Too young to understand how painfully the rickshaw puller
cycled out the weight to earn his decent living,

Too young to understand how good it feels
the soft and cool sand beneath my bare feet.

Too young to recognize that loving, careless whisper
of the neighbors meant that they really cared!

For many years, I longed to re-visit Jaipur.

Many opportunities came and went But a reason
to visit my birthplace never really came.
.
Though traveled the world across the seven seas
But waited and waited…For a special treat

And finally ….the day arrived.

Jaipur Literature Festival was a good excuse indeed.
Although no talent for writing, I proudly packed my bags.

Going to writers’ meet, I declared,
to hone my writing skills. Indeed!

Social meets I attended, famous speeches I heard,
but in between those meetings, few moments I grabbed

To visit those lanes and palaces and markets and alleys,
The pink city was truly a wonderful treat.

The ethnic mural paintings on the express highways,
The colorfully dressed native in different earthy shades

A colored-stone embedded peacock on a roadside fountain
those hand painted lamp-post in the middle of the streets.

The tasty pani-puris at every corner shop
A hot fried kachori made of spicy dhal

An assorted Raj thali at famous Choki Dhani
hot and sour briyani at every dhaba stall


Those drums and folk music and a native song
with six- tiered matkas they performed a balanced dance

Those shopping lanes they called it ‘Bazaars’
crowded with shoppers big and small.

Colorful skirts and shawls bed-covers and wares
lined the paths from stores it stared.

For hours and hours I walked those lanes
Every single trinket attracted my gaze.

I re-visited the people, the house and the lanes
Emotions, love, and feelings were all the same.

Amazing! Amazing! Amazing.
Oh My Gosh!
I wonder why I took so long?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The literature festival in Jaipur began the author session with Baby Halder

On the sprawling lawns of Diggy Palace, a decrepit but charming old building of graceful proportions, some of the country’s finest authors gathered for the Jaipur Literature Festival. I arrived with my friend at 9 am sharp and looked around for some familiar faces. There were none. My Caferati friends from Mumbai were expected to come after lunch. I approached Mita kapur, introduced myself, and then settled in the high ceiling conference room that had huge chandeliers and beautiful painting on its walls. The list of participants, I was told, would include the well known writers, such as:

Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Baby Halder, William Dalrymple, Suketu Mehta, Kiran Nagarkar, Amit Chaudhuri, Christopher Kremmer, John Zubrzycki, Bhanu Bharti, Seemantini, Anupam Mishra, Ashok Vajpeyi, Jerry Pinto, Ira Pande, Shashi Deshpande, Feryal Ali Gauhar, Sheen Kaaf Nizam, Ravi Singh, Marc Parent, David Godwin, Keki Daruwalla, Paro Anand, Atanu Roy, Dr. Hari Krishna Devsare, Jugal Mody, Jeet Thayil, Jane Bhandari.


The festival kicked off with a session with Baby Halder, who shot to fame last year with ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ an account of her experience as a domestic worker in Delhi.
I was moved by the film that showed her autobiographical story.
Baby, a domestic help in a Gurgaon household, begins narrating shards of her life led in various parts of West Bengal, mainly Murshidabad, in almost the same flat tone as she is found throughout her book. . From her difficult childhood, spent moving from place to place, coping with domestic responsibilities thrust upon her by an absentee father and a mother who abandoned the family when Baby was just a small child, to her marriage -- at the age of 13 to a man nearly twice her age -- and becoming a mother when she was still just a child herself.

Ms Haldar's fortunes changed when she ran away from an abusive marriage and went to Gurgaon to make a new beginning.

She started working as a maid to support her three children.

Among those she worked for was Professor Prabodh Kumar, the grandson of one of the greatest literary figures of the Hindi language, Prem Chand.

The professor noticed she spent a lot of time dusting his large collection of books, especially those written in Bengali.

One day he caught her handling one of the books and asked her to read out the title,

She was a bit hesitant. The book was ‘Taslima Nasreen's Amar Meyebela’.

Professor Kumar gave her the book and asked her to read it when she had time.

She would read the book at night.

Later he gave her a notebook and pen and asked her to write her life story/

After completing her daily house hold chore, she would sit into the night and write.

For Baby Haldar, who dropped out of school, putting pen to paper was a great trial - confronting the past that she had run away from.

She wrote about her uncaring father, the mother who abandoned her, her stepmother and the man double her age she was married to when she was just 13.

Professor Kumar would read her writing, make corrections and photocopies.

and she continued to write and write.

The professor showed her writings to his friends who were moved by the memoirs.

He then translated her writing into Hindi and a Calcutta-based publisher decided to print it.

An Indian woman who used to sweep and mop other people's floors found her life transformed overnight when she became a bestselling author.

Some are interested in translating the book into other languages and she has also received an offer to turn the book into a film.


At the end of the film I did see women wiping a tear from their eyes.
Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan Publishing house chatted with her after the film.

She had no qualms about working as maid and she said that she would continue to work as maid. She wants to connect with more ordinary people and write about their life and struggles. Earlier her children were ashamed to introduce her. But now they proudly say, 'My mother is a writer'.

Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai talked to Shoma Chaudhury at Diggi Palace in Jaipur literature festival

It was quite cold in Jaipur and I was not too used to that kind of weather. Since my family stayed close by, my nephew would drop me to the Diggi's palace and we would normally take a rickshaw on our way back.(didn't like to trouble him too much although if I had called him, he would happily come to pick me up) I was much grateful to my friend who had agreed to come with me to Jaipur (just because I wanted her to come) more-over it was just an holiday for her and she is one friend who never disappoints me.

The Jaipur festival was all over the city. Sometimes we went over to the exhibitions on the other side of the town and sometimes for shopping. We tried food in many restaurants and tasted the local cuisine but most of the time we were at the literature festival. It was fun interacting with other writers. during coffee break, I would try to start an conversation with stranger but could never succeed.

Writers by nature are either shy or snobs, that when I am glad that I had a friend by my side.

I enjoyed the conversations of many writers but this one was my favorite

Kiran Desai in conversation with Shoma C

Shoma
Kiran, you say you had no idea where your book was headed. Did it really begin without character or plot?

Kiran

Yes. I was writing in every direction. It was years before I could see the story and map out its historical and emotional parallels. Six years into the book, I was really depressed. It was too dark; it wasn’t true. I had to pull back and make it funnier. The world was also changing so fast — I felt I should have finished earlier and been at the next stage. I really thought I was going to vanish completely.

Shoma
But there must have been a kernel of an idea...

Kiran

There was this realization that what my generation was going through in America was the same as what my grandparents had gone through in the UK decades earlier. Nothing had changed. Both sides like to see it as different — the US doesn’t like thinking of itself as a colonial power and Indian immigrants try and emphasizes how welcome they are, but there is a lot of hypocrisy in that pretence. Immigration is not a pretty thing. It’s often very cruel. It’s just self-preservation to ignore racism in these countries.

Shoma
Did you take refuge in hypocrisy as well?

Kiran

Now no longer, now there’s a kind of hammered out honesty! (laughs) The Indian community in New York has grown and the media is everywhere, so one is a part of this whole dialogue. It keeps you honest. But there was a time when I felt more distant from India and then I thought of being Indian in a very odd, nostalgic sort of way. When you are with people who don’t know anything about India, it’s very easy to gloss over the difficult bits. My first book is very much a product of that desire to see myself as Indian in a pretty way — something I wouldn’t associate with myself now.

Shoma
Can you spell this out a bit ?

Kiran

It’s hard to put a finger on it. On the one hand, I was reading Marquez and Calvino and wanted to write in that fable/folk way. But also, it was an utterly sweet version of what it means to be Indian, almost a childhood version, like RK Narayan, something that doesn’t look at the harsher stuff. The same arguments are raging now in Latin America. ‘Realism versus magic realism’. For many younger realist authors there, Marquez is a dirty word.

Shoma
At the Booker, you said being Indian is essential to your artistic vision. Can you elaborate on that?

Kiran

When I first went away, I was far from any Indian context. I was in this little town in Massachusetts, then later in Vermont — there were hardly any Indians around. I didn’t really transform myself, but the Indian side was just missing. Looking back, I see how bad it was. I think of people forced to immigrate to places where there’s no community — suddenly all your references are gone, your language is gone. Even the English you speak is formal and curbed. Then I come back here and see how my father speaks — there’s an ease in his language, a kind of wild, raucous humor that I had lost completely. I have it a little bit more now because I feel very much part of the Indian community in New York. But I’ve lost a lot of richness of language being away. Rushdie too must be really sad for that. He was really happy at the Jaipur festival, I could tell. He was laughing really hard at all the jokes. You can’t do that anywhere else — abuse, be rude with your friends, be totally affectionate, and know that everyone understands that emotional space.

Shoma
If India is your emotional centre, what aspects of it engage you?

Kiran

I suppose the same things — the big huge issue of globalization. The dilemma of how it’s playing out. In many ways, it is a deep moral and ethical issue for us. We’d like to see ourselves as globalize Indians doing business across borders in the best possible light — but you often wonder. You drive into the Indian countryside and see nothing has changed. Latin America opened its doors decades before we did, and there is such sourness in the air about what happened there.

Shoma
To get back to your writing, is it possible to essentialize what’s Indian about it?

Kiran

For me, being Indian means being in touch with India on a day to day basis in New York — go to Indian art exhibitions, hear Asha Bhosle sing, eat in Jackson Heights, go to the houses of friends. It means the open door, the whole ease and generosity that goes with being Indian. It’s the emphasis on community and friendship, which you don’t see in the States. Everything there is so stilted. The western world is a deeply formal and lonely place. That’s the great tragedy of America. That’s what their literature is about. If you live like that, you are condemned to write that kind of literature also. (laughing) Everything is framed in deeply psychological terms, in this language of therapy. You are focused on one individual finding meaning for themselves. But that’s not the location of our literature and our writing. We are often writing of what it means to be up against community and society. The problem is too much of the writing in the US is now coming out of writing programs. You are taught to concentrate on small moments of yourself, blow your interior dialogue up to a huge degree (giggling). All this is quashed out if you are an Indian. You don’t loom so large; you are part of a community of many people. Even our language is different. In America, coming out of this process of group approval, everything is becoming too sanitized. All weirdness and eccentricity is ironed out. The whole New Yorker school of short story writing. Tragic. American writing used to be much more fun. But the weirdness that produced the Confederacy of Dunces or Truman Capote’s early books has been completely eroded.

Shoma
Has the Booker forced changes on you?

Kiran

Yes, it’s very depressing. You want to just play and write. But it’s become difficult to be playful. If you write from India or any developing country, you are forced to become a kind of mediator, an interpreter for your culture. Poor Afghani writers — they must really feel this burden.

Shoma
So are you asked for your views on the great Islam debate?

Kiran

Yes, and I think we are really lucky to have grown up being Indian so we don’t have this bizarre view of Islam that the rest of the world seems to have. I think it’s been a vile thing for George Bush to have headed America. I really wonder if it can ever go back, or whether it has permanently lost something of its soul as a nation. They have redefined their thinking in the most stupid ways. It’s really very distressing.

Shoma
What were your festival highlights?

Kiran

(Laughing) I am not going to be the one to spill all the masala gossip on Tehelka, to the everlasting wrath of all the other writers! But I had a really good time. It was chaotic but warm and intimate.

Salman Rushdie in jaipur..a friendly chat with Barkha Dutt

"Hurry up" I told my friend, "lets go early, don't want to be late"

My nephew dropped us in his car just outside Diggi's palace and by the time we reached the venue, the room was full, chok-a-block, with people overflowing into the verandas, passages and outside till the lawns. I looked around for a seat for me, there was none, some people were seated on the floor, I squeezed next to the group of women sitting on wooden bench outside the hall. My friend stood during the interview, well! she was stronger than I. She could stand for hours but not me, nah! I could not stand for more than 5 minutes.

This was the best part of my trip to Jaipur Literature Festival, listening to Salman Rushdie

The interview of Salman Rushdie with NDTV host: Barkha Dutt

Barkha:
Hello and welcome to India. I was just thinking that now you are here to speak in a literary festival in Jaipur. There was a time when just your getting a visa, just your coming to India was an event. Is coming to India still an event for you?

Rushdie:
Well, I mean, in the sense that I don't come every month. Yes, but it is getting normal. I always thought that things to do bore people. I knew the first time I came it would be an event. Then the fourteenth time you come, it is not an event.

Barkha:
But for you. For us it is still an event. I meant for you internally.

Rushdie:
Yeah, for me it is always, you know it is like drinking at the well. Ever so often you have to come to the well to drink. And you know, I mean...the year before last, I came three times and that felt very nice. Then last year because my book was coming out and I was very preoccupied with that, I didn't get here and finally I am here again. And I hope it will become a kind of as frequent an event as I can make it.


















Barkha:
But talking about Shalimar the Clown, one of the protagonists in it is actually called India and I am going to talk about the book a little later, but talking, sticking to India, is it like coming home? Is it like coming to one of your many homes or is it that home is nowhere really for you?

Rushdie:
No, I think it is in too many places, truthfully, you know, I think I do feel. I mean, particularly in Bombay, you know home is not a sub-continent. Home is a neighborhood and a bunch of streets and so on.

Barkha:
And the city and the sounds and the smells you know?

Rushdie:
Yeah, and in that sense even Delhi, even though Delhi is actually where my father's family was from. You know, we were really an old Delhi family and my parents only moved from Ballimaran mohalla to Bombay. I mean when my mother was probably already pregnant with me, which was less than a year before I was born and just because of Partition and because they didn't want to go to Pakistan, but they thought that Delhi would be less safe, which was right than Bombay. So they left old Delhi. So, in that sense it is an old Delhi family.
But I never lived in Delhi. For me, it was very much Bombay. You know, I think, that's a little bit has changed because of my life, because...so to speak Bombay has changed a lot...you know...Vikram Chandra's ' Bombay is not my Bombay. So, now I feel, I still feel, going to old neighborhoods in Bombay, that sense of home; but I also feel at home in London, because I have spent so much of my life there and now I feel very much at home at New York, so I just have a kind of complicated idea of home.

Barkha:
I want to read out little bits from two of your books..you are a narrator in The Moor's Last Sigh, which says, "I was nobody from nowhere, like no one belonging to nothing", now you fast forward to Shalimar the Clown, there is a line in there that is often repeated in critics of the book, Everywhere was now part of everything else. Is that a kind of journey for you personally? Did you start of being nobody from nowhere and now you feel that you belong a little bit to everywhere?

Rushdie:
You know, what I thought it is slightly different form that. When I was writing Midnight's Children, I had already been living in England for quite some time. I had this fear of loosing my grip on my Indian roots and origins and so on and I didn't want to, you know. So writing that novel long before I knew the big canvas of the book, how big it was going to be, I thought I wanted to write it as an active land reclamation. In the novel it talks about how Bombay is built on reclaimed land and I felt that the novel itself was built in a way, on reclaimed land. So in way, there was that beginning for me, to the process of trying to hold on to India and to tell myself what it meant for me. And then of course my life has taken me all over the place and I think, one of the things that I have learned from that process is something about this smaller planet, you know and really our stories are not separate from each other any more. Even when I wrote Midnight's Children, yes of course, there was the colonial period and that impinges on Indian History, but know, you don't need really to look outside the boundaries of India in order to explain the lives of the people in that book. And now I think you often do, you know, an event that happens, I mean like in Shalimar the Clown, you know, murder in LA, has to be explained by events that took place in other side of the world. So, in that sense how our stories are flowing into each other and what are the literary consequences of that. How do you write about a world in which that is true, you know. It is a big problem, because there is I think something essential in the novel that wants to be provincial. It wants to be a little village in which there is a woman who is bored of her husband and has an affair. The novel wants to be intimate like that, it wants to be like a Jane Austen's story, and one location in a small group of people and what happens amongst those people explains their lives, you know, and if you say. I mean these days, for many of us that is not how life is, our lives are not in one location, that is flung across the planet and even if our own lives are not, then may be our children's are.

Barkha:
And we are all sum total of all those disparate experiences.

Rushdie:
How do you examine that as a fiction. I mean, how do you bring that together and give an aesthetic form and make it mean something. Because you know, you don't want your book to be just like an act of tourism and the problem with trying to write this is kind of globalised way of writing fiction, it can just be very superficial about everywhere, I mean if you don't have the depth about one place, you can end up drawing one inch below the surface everywhere.

Barkha:
Lets look at, Shalimar the Clown, it is interesting because in some ways, all the other geographies that have been part of your life, whether its Bombay, Pakistan, London, New York, have been performers in your books, but Kashmir has not so far. It was referred to in Midnight's Children, this Tai the boatman who talks about Kashmir for Kashmiris, but not as an entire backdrop, not as an entire setting. How does that come to be for you? Was it like the next logical progression in some way for you?

Rushdie:
So that is kind of tedious. I always felt it was lying and waiting for me, I mean I was..twice.

Barkha:
And why?

Rushdie:
Because my family came from Kashmir. Regionally, before it came from Delhi, it came from Kashmir. My father's family, I said it was Delhi - Kashmiri, you know, and my mother's family was Kashmiri. My grandparents left and settled in Aligarh and my grandfather who was a doctor was involved in a Muslim University in a college. This was one reason why in our family we grew up being given homeopathic medicines. I became really sick of them.

Barkha:
Do you take them now?

Rushdie:
So, we have deep roots in Kashmir, we did go as children for holidays and so on, but it was more than that. It was made very clear to us that, that was the point of our origin. And in the way that a Bengali is always a Bengali even if he is at Harvard, I mean we were Kashmiris.

Barkha:
Do you think of yourself as a Kashmiri?

Rushdie:
Well, in the sense that you know, people define themselves regionally, I think of myself more of a Bombaywala really, but a...Kashmir was always lurking for me and I twice made attempt to circle around it. One was, as you say the early part of Midnight's Children and then I suppose, it was obviously a fable of Kashmiri, even though the place isn't called Kashmir. And then there is even a little hint of politics in the Sea of stories of corrupt local politicians and so on. I mean, I have lived there wearing yellow check pants, you know, but I always knew that I had not looked directly at it. Even in that book, when I started I was still trying to be indirect and that's my original idea of this book - the Kashmiri background of the murderer, would probably be cut off-stage, that it would be referred to him..a little bit to. But I wasn't originally thinking it needed to be fully dramatized, and then I suddenly understood that I was just chuckling out on that, that was not the way to do it and if I was going to bring it in at all, then I have to really take a deep breath and plunge in, and so I did.

Barkha:
Do you think the book, that struck me and what may have come up to you, many times before is that you sort of imagine and refer to this idealized be neighing Kashmir and a be neighing sort of Islam that used to exist, before it became caught between these various groups and in the book at least, the group seem to be Western Interests, the Indian Army and Islamic insurgence. Before we get into the book, some would say that you are romanticizing Kashmir. You have been away from it for many, many years. You obviously followed it only through the newspapers or television reports. How do you know you really have a tactile sense of the real Kashmir on the ground.

Rushdie:
The reader has to judge that, in the end you can create a world and then he does have to tell you if you have done your job properly. I mean that the history of people writing about places they haven't been for a while is very long. Joyce wrote about Dublin from Trieste in Paris and so on I mean, that is long.

Barkha:
How did you research for the book?

Rushdie:
Well, I just did an enormous amount, you know. And I mean I actually have been to Kashmir quite a lot. Not just as a child but as an adult also.

Barkha:
When was the last time?

Rushdie:
Well, the last time I spent a long time there, was 1987.

Barkha:
Just before the insurgency actually started.


Rushdie:
Just before, yeah, but the thing was bubbling away, you know, I remember I went there to make a documentary film for English Television. In the end Kashmiri part, we ended up not being able to use, because nobody would tell the truth on camera. In 1987, I went to Kashmir to make a documentary.... met the bhaands, went to their village and stayed with them.

We found that we would not tell the truth when the camera was running. They'd tell us all about an encounter with the Indian army, and then we'd start the camera:

"So tell us the story about what happened with Colonel so-and-so."
"No, no, no, nothing happened. Indian army, no problem. We love the Indian army."
"Cut". (Camera stops.)
"So tell us what happened with the Indian army?" (Long description of horrific encounter with the army follows. The film crew explains that they are now going to start the cameras.)
"So tell us the story about what happened with Colonel so-and-so."
"No, no, no, nothing to tell. Indian army, no problem."
They would tell you plenty of things the moment the camera was off.
Barkha:
Yeah, which remains a problem even today.

Rushdie:
But the moment they would tell you about this or that atrocity and the moment you ask them to say in one film, they would say the opposite, they would say there was no problem. Everything was fine. In the end I left that section out, but I actually met in Kashmir, the group of Bhand actors.

Barkha:
From whom Shalimar is inspired?

Rushdie:
I mean I became very fond of them. We went to their village and we experienced what their lives were like and they were very open about all that and we were able to all their aspects of life..both per formative and private aspects of their lives and actually it was incredible footage, but because they wouldn't tell the truth about their lives on film, we didn't use it. But they always stayed in my head and came back years later.

Barkha:
You wrote in one of your essays that if people turned away from Kashmir, it would become worse than the Tsunami? Do you feel that...Reading Shalimar the Clown, one doesn't really get a sense of optimism for Kashmir, it is grim. But on the ground things are happening, things are moving.

Rushdie:
Yes I agree, the Tsunami thing. That was about after the earthquake .. after the earthquake, you know, the number of people died could be very much larger, than that of Tsunami, that was my point there. In general, you know, I think it is difficult for a writer at this point in the history of the human race to be an optimist. Because it is a dark time in many, many ways and in many places and I mean if you live as an artist at this time, it is not unnatural to have a tragic sense of life. And I think that is true. That is there in that book. I have never believed in hopelessness as a position. One of my criticisms for example of George, in 1984, is that in the end the victory of totalitarianism is total. Even the hero, even Winston Smith ends up saying that he loves big brother...and I don't think that the victory of totalitarianism is ever total and I don't think that Catastrophe is ever a hundred percent, and so on so.

Barkha:
There is always that.

Rushdie:
There must be, there must be, I mean writing itself is a fundamentally optimistic act. When you spent 2 years, 4 years, in some cases 8, 9, 10, years of your life, trying to bring something onto being, you don't do that if you are a pessimist.

Barkha:
I cant help but bringing this up, because you are in India, the country that was the first to ban Satanic Verses, you wrote an open letter to Rajiv Gandhi then - you spoke about being hurt and humiliated. Now your latest act of fiction actually sees the Indian Army, as a villain in this piece.

Rushdie:
One of the two villains.

Barkha:
One of the two villains, the other villain being the Islamic terrorist. Were you mindful at all, not that you write for India, Indian readers or any readers at all. Was that a thought out position. Is that what you believe even outside of a fiction?

Rushdie:
Yeah, that is what I believe even outside the fiction and I think...one of the things.

Barkha:
What do you believe?

Rushdie:
Well, I think that now there is a terrible amount of oppression of Kashmiri Muslims by this other kind of Islam. That is important, you know. But before that and still there was terrible misbehavior by members of the Indian armed forces and you know that is a sad thing to say but you know, it is true and one creates the other, you know. And I have to say one of the strangest things about this book, given my history as you were saying in India, is that I found myself being praised by both Manmohan Singh and Mr Advani.

Barkha:
and Chagan Bhujbal?

Rushdie:
He was, you know, an asshole.
He spoke in very clearly racist, communalist and fascist language.
Bhujbal was anxious that some things should not appear in the official documentary.
He said, 'racism is okay, because we are racist. Fascism is okay, because we are fascist.' But Bhujbal didn't want to be photographed with his telephone.
On his desk was a telephone in the shape of a green plastic frog, and when it rang it said 'Croak! Croak!' He didn't want pictures of the frog pressed to his face; and when you see a man talking to a green plastic frog, he is humbled. It's difficult to hate him."

Barkha:
You have achieved the impossible.

Rushdie:
How did I do this?

Barkha:
How did you do it?

Rushdie:
I have no idea. But I read about it. So I thought that is an achievement.

Barkha:
And Satanic Verses was burnt in the valley and now Shalimar the Clown back in the bookshop.

Rushdie:
They seem to like it, I mean I must say, the reports I get out of Kashmir are that the book had done quite well. I mean all you can do as a writer is to put your vision of the world out. And then the people accept it or they reject it. If people reject it is very sad and if people accepts it, its very exciting. But you go down your own road. That is the thing, I mean as a writer you don't seek to ingratiate yourself or to dissociate yourself. You just try to say as truthfully as you can. How do you see the world you are in and then you hope it chimes and resonates with people.

Barkha:
You don't come to India slightly apprehensive with the Indian Army, this haloed creature in India, that has gone and sort of topple the apple cart again, then you are gone and upset the average Indian again.

Rushdie:
No, no, no. I think one of the reasons why this novel has not been received in the way, that you are suggesting is that I think there are enough people around here who know that they are speaking true. That its not a falsification of the situation and I haven't heard that kind of criticism actually of that book, because I don't think its there to make.

Barkha:
But, you know, One of the main characters, Buni Kaul tells the American ambassador that, "I was honest and you made me it into a lie, this is not me, this is you." Is that in a way, not to literarlise it too much, your perception of Kashmir, that Kashmir was something else and that India and Pakistan came along and made it something else?

Rushdie:
I think that is true. I don't want to over-idealize the situation that existed before the troubles. In the novel when the Hindu girl falls in love with this Muslim boy, it is quite clear that they don't think that going to be OK. You know I am not trying to create an idealist world in which that is not an issue, they assume that it is going to be a big issue, something that they have to conceal. And when the village in fact supports then rather than condemns them, it is a surprise. I think it would be objectively a surprise if that were to happen and I think sometimes, in a novel it is more interesting to write about exceptional circumstances than the typical circumstances and that is what I thought I was doing.
But what I was trying to say, this wasn't paradise in the sense that there are not any snakes in it but it was better. There was a, you can call it, uneasy and flawed compromise between different beliefs for example. But I think it did exist in a certain way and there was this idea..the idea of Kashmiri..the idea that your being Kashmiri was more important than whether you are a Hindu Kashmiri or a Muslim Kashmiri, and that did get messed up and it got messed up primarily from outside.

Barkha:
From both the outsides.

Rushdie:
Both the outsides, yeah.

Barkha:
And you do see India as an outside?

Rushdie:
Well, I think what is interesting now, you were saying that there is movement and so on. I mean it was interesting that both sides are now talking about the idea of the re-unification of Kashmir in some way mutually.

Barkha:
I mean they don't use that word but.

Rushdie:
Yes they don't, but mutually guaranteed by both India and Pakistan. I think when I have been to Kashmir, it is the way in which the people of Kashmir have always talked, Kashmir is one place and whether you call it a ceasefire line or Line of Control or international border, whatever you might want to call it. Actually, there is a culture of Kashmir which includes the bit on the Pakistan side and whether that can really be put back together given that in the Pakistan side, there has been more resettlement than on the Indian side and how you get all those Lashkaars and Jaisheys', out of there, that is a big issue. And it is interesting that people are beginning to murmur in that direction.

Barkha:
And you think that you are hopeful that it is moving in the right direction?

Rushdie:
I think you have to be hopeful. Don't hold your breath. But I wanted to talk about it - Kashmir, not only as itself. It also became clearer and clearer to me as I was writing it that what has happened there and is happening there became a metaphorical significance to what is happening in many other places, not just the religious conflicts but the conflict between an old way of the world and a newer way of the world and even in terms of an older idea of religion and a newer idea of religion.
A kind of east-west conflict and then the question of insurgency. One of the things that happens in the book is that I try and juxtapose two insurgencies. Max, the American Ambassador as a young man is involved in the French resistance against the Nazis and in that capacity is doing very similar things to what happens either in Kashmir or you could say in Iraq or wherever there is an insurgency. And I wanted to explore this fact - the moral or the historical context of actions affects our moral judgment of them even though it can be the same actions like throwing of a bomb. Let us say when you see that as a thing being done by French Resistance fighters against a Nazi occupation, you can see it in way and when you see it in Kashmir or Iraq, you see it in another way.

Barkha:
Well aren't we getting into dangerous territory there because like you yourself said in a recent interview that you think there is a notion of sudden amount of glamor attached to being a terrorist, being a suicide bomber. But when you locate as you do with Shalimar, the transformation of young boy, who used to be a clown - a circus performer - who becomes a terrorist. Is that a little form of justification where you locate the origins of why he became a terrorist?

Rushdie:
I think, there is a difference between explanation and justification. I mean I wanted to present a credible life. That is the thing and also I think this if I made him an out an out nasty person who become a thug, you know, that is easy and therefore teaches, shows that we did nothing and it isn't very interesting to do. And another more important thing if you do not care about a human being in a book, then you don't care about their moral choices. If you hate somebody, and he does something hateful you think - Oh!! Sure, what else would he do?
I think the artistry lies - I first making you care about all the characters and then you are engaged with their moral choices. You know, you feel them as a reader - I hope more deeply because you mind about the person. Because Shalimar the Clown starts off as quite a sweet young man and ends up being very unsweet. You care about the choices he makes and the wrong turns he makes and where he goes. That was the reason for doing it, it was to draw the reader along with the process of thinking about how this transformation happened. If you just put people in neat boxes - good and bad, that is not what I am interested in.

Barkha:
In some ways, looking back at a book like Fury, set in post 9/11 New York, then looking at Shalimaar.

Rushdie:
Pre 9/11..pre 9/11.

Barkha:
Pre 9/11..New York, I beg your pardon and then looking at Shalimar: the Clown, do you in some ways feel that you have been almost prophetic about terrorism?

Rushdie:
You know, I resist the term Prophetic.

Barkha:
The Prophets are bad word in your life.

Rushdie:
You know I had some troubles with Prophets, I am not applying for a job. I think if you are a writer, what you are trying to do is pay attention, you try and pay attention as carefully as you can to your moment in time and to the places you know and care about and if you do that, sometimes you can get it right. for instance in Fury, it was quite clear, it was not like I could foretell 9/11 attacks, because who could have done that. But it was quite clear, even leaving aside the issue of terrorist violence that this moment of New York city at the turn of the millennium, where there was such wealth at confidence and even arrogance, you know about the city at a kind of pinnacle moments. One of the things we know about pinnacle moments is that they don't last very long, they always seem to be. Whether it is Paris at its peak, whether it is London at the height of the British Empire, whether it is Venice, whether it is Florence or Rome itself - whenever you see these moments of a city at a great pinnacle, you know that the only way is down, and its a fragile thing, much more fragile than it seems to be and so I had the sense as I was getting to know, living in New York, what it was like. That here was this exceptional moment in the life of the City and the intimations of its endings were already present. I am not saying violent endings - even Economic endings that kind of bubble wasn't going to fail to burst. I wanted to write about a world very ambiguously poised at a really high moment, with the clouds massing.

Barkha:
Some would say how does somebody like yourself, who is an atheist, who doesn't believe in God, get to be a keen observer of religion and Islam in particular. But before we get into the academic question of that, tell us the story of when you discovered that you didn't believe in God ?

Rushdie:
It has to do with a ham-sandwich.

Barkha:
The lure of a ham-sandwich?

Rushdie:
When I went to boarding school in England, my parents were not being very observant. And one of the few things that did happen in our house was that there were no pigs to eat.

Barkha:
Your grandfather was a devout believer.

Rushdie:
Yeah, my grandfather went on a Haj and so on. My father really wasn't and my mother, until after my father died, she started acquiring Islam in her rheumatism.

Barkha:
Did you say that to her and did she react kindly?

Rushdie:
More or less yes. You know my mother had a great sense of humor, both my parents did actually and I think that is what partly I hope I have got some of it. Anyway I went to England, I went to boarding school, at that point I had never eaten ham, pork, bacon, any of that. And I remember sitting in a Latin school looking at the Rugby Chapel - Rugby Chappel is actually a very beautiful Neo-Gothic building, but at that point to my 14-year-old eyes, it didn't look beautiful, it looked pretty ugly and I was thinking, what kind of God lives in a house like that.
By the end of the Latin lesson I had convinced myself that the answer was that - no kind of God lived in a house like that, because it was just an empty house and at that point I realized that I had ceased to believe in anything divine. To celebrate this I went to the school shop and bought a ham sandwich, which now I am sure was an extremely poor ham sandwich.

Barkha:
And did you like that ham sandwich?

Rushdie:
At that time I liked it, you know..that the thunder bolt felt and strike me dead then and I thought that that is proof about the nonexistence of God. And that was kind of comic exaggeration in the beginning of the Satanic Verses, when Gabriel goes through one of the most cataclysmic loss of faith but he also celebrates his loss of faith by going to the Taj in Bombay, stuffing his face full of bacon.

Barkha:
How did your family react to this - bacon and ham sandwich?

Rushdie:
I didn't tell them. My mother would have been upset. I think while she was alive and I would go home, I would completely accept that it was not going to happen at home.

Barkha:
Even today, you think, the rest of your family would not have accepted that?

Rushdie:
I think very few people, in my mother's generation, they didn't do, I don't know what people do now. People eat all sorts of things now.

Barkha:
And now let's fast forward from being 15 to almost being 60 next year and you go on Television in England and you say that veil sucks. Do you hesitate for a moment even before you say that?

Rushdie:
It wasn't on television at start. It doesn't matter. No, because I come from family culture in which that was the view.

Barkha:
That the veil sucks!

Rushdie:
Yes, it was not my view, it is the view of every women in my family. You try and put somebody in my family into a veil, and you will get a very blunt answer.

Barkha:
And the answer would be what?

Rushdie:
No, thank you, the family tradition that I came from was one of women who were extremely able, who were very active in the world, where there is education or whatever it might be. My family has done all kinds of things. My grandfather, who as you say was very religious, did not attempt to arrange marriages of people. He believed that the women in the family should be as highly educated as the male in the family and he encouraged people to seek careers for themselves, to be active in the world. So that anything that sequesters women, I don't think, I mean mine is a family of women, almost there are no boys in my family, all girls and you ask that, what I am doing, and my family by the way is extremely vocal and articulate.

Barkha:
That is not a surprise, listening to you.

Rushdie:
No, the reason you have to be articulate is that you have to have words in edgeways in my family, you have to. So, what I am saying is, you can't ask me to deny what has been my lifetime view. And I think in this novel, Shalimar the Clown, there is an episode in which Kashmiri women who never worn burqas, who have never worn the full niqab, whatever it might be, suddenly being pressured.

Barkha:
That is happening..that is actually happening.

Rushdie:
Pressured into doing so and there again you have the idea of one kind of Muslim culture being distorted by another and I think that is horrible. We surely at this point in history don't need half the human race to walk round wearing bags over their heads to avoid arousing the passions of the other half of the human race.

Barkha:
Here is a contradiction that I see - so much of fiction is actually about this mad mix, almost of cultures. And where would your fictions be without that mad mix of cultures.

Rushdie:
Nowhere.

Barkha:
Nowhere and some would argue that the veil is one element of the part of that mad mix of the world. As we know it why do we need to homogenize cultures?

Rushdie:
We don't. But I think we don't need to oppress women either. I mean Midnight's Children has played with the idea of veil. A lot of Midnight's Children has the theme of the hole in a sheet, for women being hidden behind sheets for purposes which are sometimes medical and sometimes erotic and sometimes religious. I think those bits of the world now, mostly in the west, where some, mostly young women are adopting veil as a badge of identity and are asserting their right to do so. I think fair enough, they have the right to dress any way they want. I am not talking about banning things but I think they do a disservice to their sisters in other parts of the world where there isn't such choice. If they were in Afghanistan, they would have been forced. To be able to make a choice is fine, but I think to adopt that as a badge of pride is assisting the oppression of women who don't have a choice.

Barkha:
I don’t want to ask you about the Fatwa , because I know you are bored to tears with that question, but when you make these sort of public announcements as you are doing right now on the veil, on Islam, on terrorism, is there ever that moment of hesitation, because after all you lived in hiding, you have been threatened before. Is there ever that hesitation form that experience?


Rushdie:
No, no because my view is, if you are going to be given the luxury or the privilege of a public platform, where you can sit on a television programme and be asked about your views, then you may as well tell the truth. Otherwise don't do it.

Barkha:
So what was that about producing Edward Albee's Zoo Story for Pakistan television

Rushdie:
This was when I wanted to be an actor. I suggested Zoo Story to them on the grounds that it would be very cheap--it was 50 minutes long, needed just two actors, and was performed on a bare stage with just a park bench.
Then we got to the scene where Jerry feeds six hamburgers to the dog, and the man from PTV said:
"No, no, no, the word 'pork'--pork is a four-letter word."

I argued that in the script it is very bad pork in the hamburgers, so bad that even the dog won't eat the burgers, so perhaps this should be seen as an anti-pork statement. The censor won't budge, though, so pork is replaced with a less offensive meat. Then they come to a scene where the word 'sex' is repeated thrice.

"No, no, no, the word sex--sex is a four-letter word."

I argued that the scene is crucial, that the word sex is necessary.
"No, no, no. The word 'sex' cannot be said on Pakistan television."
"But the scene?"
"No, no, scene is okay. But no sex."

So that's why Zoo Story is produced in Pakistan with the word 'sex' replaced serially by "desire", "lust" and "love".

So nobody will ever see my Jerry

Barkha:
You don't live in fear, anymore?

Rushdie:
It wasn't exactly a fear, it was frustration and it was ideally a dreadful, deep disturbance in the soul for me. But it wasn't exactly fear and it increasingly became something that I felt, that had to be argued back against and I guess that is what I am doing.

Barkha:
You described the Fatwa once as a "bad novel".

Rushdie:
Bad Salman Rushdie novel.

Barkha:
Which one is a bad Salman Rushdie novel according to you?

Rushdie:
That one.

Barkha:
That one .. that hasn't been written yet. But honestly, more seriously, you also said somewhere that we are all living under a Fatwa now. That the world that we know today is that you were perhaps the first victim and now we all know what it feels like.

Rushdie:
What I said is, I didn't want to compare what happened to me to much larger scale because there is a disproportion of that. But I felt like it was may be the first crow that fly across the sky, because truthfully until that time, this, the idea that such a narrow vision of the world as the extremist vision would become such a great force at the center of the stage. Would have been hard to make that case, you know and it didn't seem as if that was going to become the central event of our age and now, with hindsight it looks obvious but it wasn't obvious going forward.

Barkha:
Let me come back to you and back to you and India. Is your wife here with you?

Rushdie:
No, she is too busy. She is in the good position of having her very successful television series in America and she is very busy with that.

Barkha:
At this moment last year there were a whole lot of tabloids speculating whether there was trouble in Salman Rushdie's marriage. Both of you clarified that. Is it irritating, frustrating to be famous and to have that kind of scrutiny on your personal life?

Rushdie:
Well the truthful thing is, I think, that being famous is the least interesting thing about being me. I really have almost no interest in that subject. Because we live in this age where people think that if you become well known, then that must be the purpose of what you are doing.

Barkha:
You open a newspaper and you see an anatomy of your marriage in the papers. What does it make you feel?

Rushdie:
I feel kind of bored, you try not to let it in. I am a very busy person and I have a very deep relationship with my family and my friends and I try and focus on that. What happens in your life happens in your life, it doesn't happen because the newspapers say so. So, you have to understand that its almost like you have to learn to treat it as an irrelevance. You have to, otherwise it invades private place and that's not good.

Barkha:
There was a story somewhere that when Padmalakshmi met you for the first time, she hadn't read any of your books.

Rushdie:
That is true.

Barkha:
Was that difficult for you?

Rushdie:
She read them very quickly.

Barkha:
Speed reading Salman Rushdie. But honestly, considering that your writing defines so much of you, I actually asked you that as a serious question. How was it to meet somebody who just hadn't read you?

Rushdie:
Well, I didn't know.

Barkha:
She didn't dare to tell you that.

Rushdie:
Didn't matter, you know, I don't expect to only find myself in the company of people who have read all my books. I think it is a long time, about 7 and a half years ago, I don't really recall it mattering very much. Obviously it didn't matter very much because it didn't matter a roadblock. I am always grateful to people who have read my books but its not compulsory.

Barkha:
And when she travels doing her successful cookery show, do you travel with her or is that a no, no.

Rushdie:
I sometimes visited her but on the whole I think, people have to be allowed to do their work. I don't like people standing behind my shoulder when I am writing. I really don't like it at all if there is somebody there.

Barkha:
Well, you need to shut the door and say "Get out".

Rushdie:
Well, you know I need a silent space around myself to work and if other people need that too, then that is entirely legitimate.

Barkha:
Now, Padma of course is also Indian, she has a family here. Has the marriage in some ways increased the relationship with India? Does it bring you back more? Are you both in touch with your rambling extended families?

Rushdie:
Yeah, I mean, I think what its done which I really valued is that it has put me in touch with another kind of India.

Barkha:
Southern India.

Rushdie:
Yeah, if I come from North Indian Muslim background, she comes from South Indian Brahmin background. So it is a very different India I have got, because of this very large family of hers. I have got to know the south better than I had and that has been great.

Barkha:
You were saying that people come up to you in India and sort of say, "Hello I am related to your wife".

Rushdie:
Yes, it happens at airports. It happened twice at airports.

Barkha:
What happened actually?

Rushdie:
People come up. They say I am related to your wife and they give you a very complicated genealogy. It always turns out to be right. Yes, I mean, her is a very large family, so it is not surprising.

Barkha:
Let me ask about something that one doesn't talk about that often. Your parents actually migrated to Pakistan in the 60's. How much of Pakistan is a part of your identity?

Rushdie:
Some, I mean I never lived there, that is the thing. My parents went there and the longest period I had spent in Pakistan continuously was 4 or 5 months between leaving school and joining to university. I spent another five or six months there, after leaving university and before returning to England to try to begin to be a writer. Well, I mean I have written one and a half novels about Pakistan.

Barkha:
Shame of course.

Rushdie:
And some of Midnights Children, as well, you know, so.

Barkha:
But is it something you carry within your personal identity ?

Rushdie:
Not really.

Barkha:
Because clearly there are references to India, there is references to Kashmir, there are references to New York, Bombay, London. But is Karachi part of Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie:
Not really, I know which side I am on in, the cricket test.

Barkha:
And which side is that?

Rushdie:
Its always India, India-Pakistan - no problem for me.

Barkha:
Do you get to follow cricket?

Rushdie:
Yes, somewhat. I mean in New York it is difficult to follow cricket, but I am still in London quite a lot.

Barkha:
One final question - you wrote in one of your essays, that "I am somebody who loved India very dearly. If you could take pride in India's strengths, then you must also take responsibility for India's sense". Just as an observer of India, somebody who is an at least part Indian, where do you locate this mad country of ours today.

Rushdie:
Well, I think it is a really, really, interesting moment for India. It is right at the center of, or potentially right at the center of the future and that's you know, very interesting to see. The sins are still there, the sins are still what they always were.

Barkha:
Is it religion, which you call the "poison in India's blood.."

Rushdie:
Well, everyone is not just Indian, try the United States for example. The kind of extreme moments of violence that burst out of nowhere. That do happen as a kind of unfortunate recurrence in India's contemporary history. I think we have to face that and see what the hell is that, why does that happen? there is this enlarging gulf between the super rich and the super poor and that is not original to say so. But that is not a healthy condition for a society to create the colossal gulf. And there is sectarianism and there is religious communalism and there is gangsterism in politics. You know, you can make the list better than me. I think the job of the srtist is to look clearly, that is what I am saying. It is not to say I am on one side or the other. I mean I would much prefer it if you read a book of mine, that you didn't know which side I was on.

Barkha-
Does it still offend you that you are in a country where Satanic Verses is still banned?

Rushdie:
Yeah!!

Barkha:
It offends you?

Rushdie:
Offending is the wrong word. On the other hand you can get one.

Barkha:
Oh yes it is one of those classic Indian hypocrisy.

Rushdie:
Not just India, I remember meeting an Egyptian man in New York, who said to me, "Your book is totally banned, everyone has read it".

Barkha:
I think that is the same case in Kashmir as well. But just to end on a happy, slightly sentimental note your last and abiding memory of your time in Kashmir. What is it?

Rushdie:
Well, you know, the thing about Kashmir is that it is overwhelmingly beautiful and beauty can become like an almost moral value. In a place of such exceptional loveliness, it lifts the heart and it is that lifting the heart that I think many people in India who went to Kashmir, would feel. I think it is the quality, whether it is in art or in a place, that moment of transcendence, you look for as a human being, you find it in love, or music or Kashmir.

Barkha:
All right Salman Rushdie, we hope the day comes when you can go back there actually.

Rushdie:
Why not?

Barkha:
Thank you very much for speaking to us.

After the interview, a big rush followed him to get his autographed copies, me and my friend walked over to the lawns for a fresh cup of coffee.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Loneliness

I never feel lonely because I am never alone.

I think loneliness is the result of low self esteem. People, who expected too much from other people and depend on others to cater to their demands, are more prone to loneliness.

If we have enough activities of our own and know how to utilize the time, we will not experience loneliness. People usually feel lonely when they have the change of environment. They are too shy to go out and make new friends and spend long hours brooding over lost relationship. A person living alone may not feel lonely and a person surrounded by many people can feel lonely; it is the state of mind.

To avoid loneliness, we should go out and reach out to people instead of waiting for people to come to us. Children are the great source of joy; lonely people can surround themselves with children and watch them play. Another way to overcome loneliness is to develop interest in some hobby, be it reading, writing, painting or cooking. Keeping a pet in the house can also be of great help.

Overall, the best way to avoid loneliness is to remove the focus of pity from oneself and reach out to world, speak to people, smile a lot, make an effort, get involved, do something new and try to find ways to make a difference in some body’s life. By giving happiness to others, our own happiness returns back, the spirit of well being returns and loneliness quietly leaves from the back door.

Rumination of a teenager formerly known as Achint

My mom squawks. Incessantly. All the time. In fact, every time she sees me.

“Oh gawd, smell your socks!”

Should I? Should anyone? Would you?

“Oh gawd, look at your hair!”

Why mine? Look at David Beckham's. Look at Johnny Depp's. Look at Zayed Khan's. Or John Abraham's. Are their mommies squawking?

“Oh gawd! Why are your underpants showing?”

Duh. Got underwear. Will show. Watch the Kaanta Lagaa video for further reference.

The problem with adults is that they start off alright. Then somewhere along the way they lose it. Become mindless. Start parroting each other. My dad, for instance, started off a bit of an alright. Now he's gone into the squawking mode too.

“Oh gawd! Look at your report card!”

Desist. That's the last thing I would recommend you look at -- blood pressure and all that.

“Oh gawd! How do you get marks like that?”

Quite easily. Effortlessly. Yes, that's the word. Don't remember trying. They come on their own.

Anyway, the long and short of it is this. It's official. You can call me God. As in “Oh Gawd”. My parents do. I don't know why they bothered with the naamkaran ceremony, getting a pundit, finding the right letter of the alphabet to start with et al. They should have just stuck to their gut feelings after that first gush of “Oh gawd, isn't he beautiful!”

Alas, the adult mind.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing old fashioned about my folks. In fact, my mom is so New Age that she's almost future tense. They've invited her to Andromeda, or is it into Shambala, but she's still trying to figure out if the vaastu of the place is right. My mom, she doesn't go anywhere without first figuring out if the vaastu is right. And even then, just to be safe, she carries along assorted flutes, tea-lights and wind chimes. She's into Feng Shui too, for good measure. In fact the rule of thumb with my mum is that if it isn't in English she's doing it – Reiki, Tai-chi, Shaitsu – you get the drift?

However, her chief preoccupation these days is training her monkey. “The mind is a monkey,” she tells me every time she isn't saying, “Oh gawd, smell your socks.” The mater is heavily into cultivating Present Moment Awareness. You know the Hakuna Matata philosophy – enjoy the moment, forget about past and present? What are the chances that she'll succeed? Slim, very slim indeed. Slimmer even than the posterior she's aspiring to get after joining that artistic yoga class. She has a natural inbred hostility to Hakuna Matata. It's there right under her nose, all the time, but there's absolutely no appreciation, even recognition of it on her part. Instead she goes heedlessly plummeting into the past…

“Oh gawd! Do you remember your marks in the mid term exams?”

And then the next minute she hurtles headlong into the future.

“Oh gawd! Your final exams are starting in three weeks!”

Chill lady. Relax. Be in the here and now. The here and now is the Arsenal versus Manchester United fixture at 11 pm on TV. What do you mean what about school tomorrow? That's tomorrow. We're talking here and now. Go grab your monkey. Or at least stop messing with mine. It's perfectly in control. Can't you see it's for you whom the Eckhart Tolles?

Now to move to Papa. Hold on Dad. Salman Khan is passé. Keep that shirt on.

That's the problem with my dad. Always losing his shirt. He goes around giving pieces of his mind, left, right and centre. And to think he is an Economist. He's supposed to allocate scarce resources judiciously and all that jazz. Hey Mr. Economist, dude, what are pieces of your mind doing all over my life?

And then he's just not consistent. My dad, he loves money. No, not the filthy grubbiness of notes or the merry jingle of coins in the pockets. He loves the abstraction of it. Perfectly friable. Frangible. Fully Convertible. Medium of exchange. Legal tender. It's poetry to his economist's ears.

So does he burst into song or rhapsodize when yours truly, his first born, the apple of his eyes etcetera earns his first two hundred cool rupees? No way. Not him. Instead he goes all retrosexual, growling in full-fledged caveman mode…

“What is this letter from your school? Next time you are caught selling Pokeman cards in school, Oh gawd, I swear I'll skin you alive and hang you upside down from the fan.”

No consistency about the man. The least you would expect from an economist father is a polite but firm letter to the concerned authorities explaining the superiority of cash transactions over the primitive barter economy. Perhaps, with a little note on the side, about laissez faire and the spirit of enterprise. A man should stand up for his beliefs. And stand by his son, that too.

Or take the case of Letter No. 2 (yes, my school is in the reprehensible habit of communicating with parents in this prissy Victorian manner, sealed, white envelope and all).

However, before you jump to any hasty conclusions that we're a careless, letter-happy kind of family that goes about avidly collecting stern missives from school authorities like other people collect stamps or coins, perish the thought. After the historic Letter No.1 a family council was convened with the express purpose of averting Letter No. 2. In fact to put in place a foolproof, failsafe plan to avert all future missives.

“The problem is,” said the mother, “every time you open your mouth you drip attitude.”

“Just keep your mouth shut in school for the next two or so years. Don't say anything apart from 'Yes Ma'am' and 'No Sir'. Got it?!” commanded the father.

There's something about me, I suspect, which makes his metrosexual mask itch and slip a bit.

Anyway, I got it. Letter No. 2, that is. It followed Letter No. 1 as inexorably as night follows day.

“What did you do? What did you say now?” yelled the daddy, wildly waving Letter Number 2 in his hands, all of him blistering, blithering, blubbering with anger.

“Yes Ma'am. You said I could say 'Yes Ma'am'.”

“It says here you've been insolent to a teacher. What did you say, let's have it straight.”

“I only said 'Yes Ma'am'. Swear.”

“What did you say 'Yes Ma'am' to?” asks the mother. Her monkey has his bright moments.

Well here's the complete, unabridged version.

“You think I'm an idiot?” said the teacher.

“Yes Ma'am!” said I.

“Last warning,” said the letter.

“Oh gawd!” said the parents.

You, of course, might think this letter business is funny. It isn't. Not at all. Letter No. 3 hangs like the Sword of Damo-whats-his-name on the family. Irreversible damage has been done to the family's peace of mind (not to be confused with father's pieces of mind, alluded to earlier). The problem with this country is that it's too pro-establishment. In a civilized country, say Sweden or Denmark, or something I'm sure I would have been assured lifelong state support, no need to report for work etcetera, as compensation. Even in the US of A which isn't quite that civilized about these things I could have sued the school.

Like I said it's done irreparable damage to the family psyche. The first real things my kid brother learnt to say after “Ma-ma, da-da, wee-wee” were “fire hot-hot!” and “letter no-no!” The child has barely begun to speak and they've gone and frightened him clean of all sparks of originality. He'll probably grow up to be a prefect or head boy.

Your honor, I rest my case.

The author, Ms Manjul Bajaj is grateful to her teenage son, Achint for letting her lounge around in his mindspace for the duration it took to craft this piece.

I would like to Thank Manjul for letting me share her work on my blog. Do visit her blog for more of her columns at http://manjul-bajaj.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Snake & Ladder is not just another ‘Game’.



Everybody has their moments of ladder
Let me roll the dice
Be not afraid of a snake bite
Why quit without a fight?

All cannot win to play
There ought to be some losers.
Consequences are just existential fare
That lands me on another square.

Even if you reach the top row of squares
Game isn’t over till it is over.
There is some tendency to lose or diminish
When things are too close to finish

You praise me and take me high
Then sting me. Ouch! It hurts!
Slap me or pat me, it’s not my choice
In this lucky roll of dice

Nobody succeeds all the time
In this world of decision and progress
There is no such thing as ‘She is right’
In everybody’s moments of light.

Opportunity knocks on door of one
Who perseveres and persists long enough.
Successes are not permanent joys
Beware! It’s the roll of dice!

Winner is one who never quits
Midway quitter loses it all.
No matter how many stings are pounced
Brave players never denounce.

Everybody has their moments of ladder
Let me roll the dice
Afraid, I am not of a snake bite
Why quit without a fight?




Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Greedy Machine

With progressive lottery
Of millions of dollars,
Winning a jackpot, he thinks
Would change his entire collar.

In casino every weekend with
Coin pockets, greasy and grime
Pushes my greedy button
And commits another crime.

My flashing lights, bright colors,
Whistles, sirens, and calls
Surrounded by excitement
I am infectious to all.

He thinks it is safe to play
Cares not for confrontations
Learning without a manual
Just dumps in all his collections

My slot clubs offer him great rewards
Getting a free room or meal,
Even a special discount
Wow! For him it is a steal!

My penny slots fit every budget.
Low roll or a high scroll,
He plays with me for hours and hours
Without watching his bankroll


Cares not of hard earned money
That could rock his baby’s cradle
Wipe off from brow a wrinkle
Or buy her a golden ladle.

Foolishly
He drops
Yet another coin
Into my slot
Agreed!
I promised him moon
But I will
Clean him
and
Swallow it all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Changing Moods

Rugged hair
Dry skin
Nails unpolished,
Am I living in dream?

Dress is old
Spirit is cold
Feeling down
In tainted crown

Phone lines dead
Bored in bed
Money scanty
Needs are plenty

But, what the heck!
It’s passing mood.
Soon, will be dancing
In a new hood.
Expecting a jackpot
In day or two
Will blow off fortune
And solve the clue.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I am important!

I remind myself everyday that I should take myself seriously and take care of Me first. Pampering ourselves builds a self confidence in us and we develop positive vibration around us which is very infectious to others and we get surrounded by fun loving people.

I have great faith in myself and never allow anybody to dampen my spirit. Whenever anybody makes a comment I never react. What is there to react? If the comment is true or false, it is his/her opinion. Everybody has right to their opinion. I have one too.

Most important thing to remember is to have complete faith in you. We are mature enough to decide what is right from wrong. Why do we have to prove it? And to whom? My Goodness! There are so many people in this world. How many to please?

It is best to please just one person. Me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Letter to Santaji ....Merry Christmas!

Dearest Santa

Christmas has arrived and once again I wished I was born a Christian. I have nourished this wish since many years, I think I must have been five then, when my friends first showed me their huge collection of toys and told me that Santa had come through the chimney and have left so many gifts for them on a Christmas Eve. I had asked my friend then as to why Santa did not come to my house too and she had told me that he came only to those who celebrate Christmas. That was a day when I had first visited church to pretend that I was born in a family that celebrates Christmas.

But now I have learnt that you have become very open minded and do not care much about caste or creed and knowing your generous mood I am spreading my begging sheet.
Hope you will not disappoint me this Christmas. Dear Santa, this year I have not been a very manipulative person., I have not even compulsively lied nor have I helped my mommy’s special friends with their pyramid schemes and I always say thank you which makes me seem like I care and so I deserve lots of blank cheques this year.

I think I prefer the blank cheque because gifts that you bring - sucks. Some of the gifts that you brought for my friend last year didn’t make any sense at all! I mean what would she do with that sloppy red-haired guy who did pelvic dance all day, or, that toothless bloke, who couldn’t say a simple sentence without lisping and messing up the conversation? I thought he was spitting when he said ‘Today” Nah! Not my kind of taste! Just give me blank cheques and I will go for hubby shopping. A new mall has opened in my area and this has a special floor with branded hubby’s. They have some real muscular guys who not only make babies or escort you to the fancy parties but they also help at home with washing and plumbing. I wonder how much it will cost me this time. The previous one was too expensive and it was not even durable.

Don’t worry. I am very careful with money. You can trust me with blank cheque. I will not spend too much at this mall. I need only one hubby. Plus, I just need one nice, big car to take him around (preferably BMW, cannot ask for your old fashioned sleigh because there are too many potholes here in Mumbai and my hubby could break a bone or two..) and maybe, I would buy few diamond bracelets and ear-rings (what I wear can boosts my hubby’s ego and upgrades his status in the society, although personally I have no passion for such things.) That’s all that I want. Nothing more!

I will hang my pink stocking on my bedroom window, push the cheque inside and ring a soft bell.

Merry Christmas to you!
I remain
Teeny mini Not-too-greedy woman of substance




Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Come back darling...ER.....hmmn!

Dearest darling,

Are you coming back to me, my love? I have missed you so much. I have lain awake many sleepless nights trying to compose words that might adequately describe the feeling of my heart. But every time I have made the attempt I have failed miserably.

I need you so badly because you are the only one who has the key to our safe locker, where we keep most of the ornaments, Remember, how your mother had snatched those from my parents during our wedding. That dowry was a steal! You and your parents were so witty and brave! It was so easy to fool my parents. Isn’t it? Had I not warned you about their weakness, you wouldn’t have known. Imagine we even managed to get an apartment and a car! I really miss you, especially, when I attend kitty parties and have nothing new to wear. I am tired of wearing the same jewelry every time. Come back darling, just for little while.

Try to understand honey, now that you have eloped with Prema, our upper crust socialite, I am sure you have no use for my locker or the key. I am getting used to sleeping comfortably in our large bed, now that I don’t have you complaining about my snoring! Okay I agree that I snore too loud! But you remember how I had scared those robbers away? You said that it reminded you of rumbling thunder and you spend many nights all alone sleeping on the floor Sweetheart, my life has been so peaceful since you have walked away from me.

You stole Prema from me? You dumped me and chose her. But, seriously, I really don’t mind. I was getting tired of her since long time. I know you were surprised to see her the other night when you came back one day earlier from your business trip. But never mind, I have a new girl friend now! Much prettier and more wealthy! You can keep this one. I promise I will not disclose your sloppiness or your conceit.


Just come back darling to give my keys back to me. I will do whatever it takes. Please come back.

Dream of me, my love
Your (truly)

Ex-companion.

PS: what should I do with your brand new blue stripped pajamas? I sold rest of your clothes in the garage sale just last week.

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I could Be A Poet, er..Am I?
I craft words well, in creative and unexpected ways and I have a great talent for evoking beautiful imagery or describing the most intense heartbreak ever I am already naturally a poet, even if I've never written a poem. But I do, I do, I seriously do…

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Learning Computers

Learning Computers
Computer books for kids

Learning Mathematics

Learning Mathematics
Worksheets in Maths (set of 24 modules)

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The Keys to My Heart
I am attracted to those who are unbridled, untrammeled, and free. In love, I feel the most alive when things are straight-forward, and I am told that I am loved. I would be forced to break up with someone who was ruthless, cold-blooded, and sarcastic. My ideal relationship is open. I can talk about everything... no secrets. My risk of cheating is zero. I care about society and morality. I would never break a commitment. In this moment, I think of love as something I thirst for. I'll do anything for love, but I won't fall for it easily.