destination india

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

enjoy the rains

Monsoons are what all of us wait for eagerly, year after year. It quenches the thirst of mother Earth and raises hopes of bountiful crops in the minds of farmers. Political bigwigs express happiness at timely arrival of the monsoons and declare with confidence that this will take care of plenty of ills. Soon thereafter, they are shown touring the countryside in helicopters viewing quite seriously the ravages of yet another session of tides. Delay in the onset of monsoons, on the other hand, wipes the smiles from the faces of the farmers, it also raises deep furrows in the foreheads of the met people who are invariably at the receiving end. No number of super computers or satellite pictures has ever been able to predict, with any degree of accuracy, as to when the clouds will actually precipitate to moisten the soil and bring relief to those whose survival depends on it.

The first showers of the year are welcome by one and all. They herald the beginning of the period called the monsoons – they are the harbingers of good news for dealers of umbrellas, rain coats, rubber shoes and a whole variety of assorted items whose lifespan is a couple of months – of course not in places like Cherrapunji. Not just dealers but the ones who repair the umbrellas also make their appearance. Miniaturization has left its mark on these products also – we have those spring-loaded, foldable umbrellas that are so convenient to carry and lose. Yes, umbrellas are tiny little things that we are accustomed to leave in the bus or train or in our office or in a friend’s house. It rarely, if ever, comes back to its rightful owner, even though it may have the owner’s name written in artistic and colorful writing in its inner flap. With the reduction of size, the area that gets covered also reduces proportionately, today it is only the head that enjoys protection, and the lower part of the body gets wet all the same!

Most of the city administration are caught unawares by the onset of monsoons – with so many super brains at work, we have not yet been able to discover remedies to prevent water logging of roads. Practically every city experiences it.

One of the most common recipes that is popular with Bengalis when the heavens are pouring their goodness all around you whether you want it or not is a dish called ‘khichudi’. It is a concoction that is extremely simple and easy to prepare and wonderful to taste. Khichudi, in common parlance, means hotch-potch. Well, this dish is just that. Throw in fistful of different types of pulses into a couple of fistfuls of raw rice, clean the ingredients thoroughly, add water, whole onions, potatoes, tomatoes, slivers of ginger, and red chilies, along with salt to taste, and haldi. A spoon of sugar is not mandatory but adds to the taste. Allow the combination to boil and, when properly cooked, serve piping hot – add a couple spoonfuls of ghee or butter as topping. Side dishes for this fantastic main dish are usually fried stuff like omelettes, brinjal, finger chips of potato, onion pakoras and other such items. These are usually parallel activities and are prepared simultaneously as the main dish continues to bubble and boil on the side.

When we were in school and incessant rain made it impossible to move out of doors, our school would declare special holidays termed as ‘rainy day holiday’. And, in the evenings, we would kick the football all around the wet, slippery, muddy ground – those who slipped and fell in the mud, enjoyed the game most. I wonder whether kids of today can boast of such unbridled enjoyment.

kerry curry cricket

The wonderful game of cricket has certainly come a long way – five days of dull cricket reduced to one day of glamour, excitement, arguments, anger, ecstasy all rolled into one large size dosa and served on a platter with mouth watering chutney and delicious sambar. One of the seats, for expert opinions, is reserved for one of the fair sex – an example of women’s reservation in a simplified form. That is Kerry curry for you! Not to be confused with the Japanese hara-kiri.

Cricket has transformed itself as dramatically as no other game has done. Yes, there have been superficial changes in other games like the introduction of beach volleyball as an offshoot of regular volleyball but nothing drastic like axing five days into one day. No one has thought of playing football with only four players or hockey with six; or of having two goal keepers – one for the right portion of the goal and the other for the left; or of partitioning the goal post box into two – left and right. If they introduced such modifications, more goalkeepers could be accommodated! Just a thought.

Rules have been modified in cricket and innovations introduced regularly to give the viewers more and more – the latest ideas also seem to be in that vein. The substitute can now feel proud to be able to wear the cap and actually participate in the game, not just carry water bottles and messages from the drawing room to the 22 yards strip. Of course, when regional politics come into play, the number of substitutes may increase. Probably, it will feature in next year’s agenda.

Kerry Packer gets credit for giving a new dimension to the game and, our cricketing bosses should consider ways and means of how to keep his memory alive. His date of birth is 17th December 1937 and, it could be considered to be commemorated in some way or another. We have enough expertise and ingenuity to find out probable methods! The first one day match was reportedly played on 2/12/1977 – that could become another red letter day. It would be interesting to find out whether our cricketers have photographs of KP on their shelf because he is the one they should remain grateful to for showing them how to mint millions. Be in the game for five years and setup hotels in posh localities to ensure a cushy life for yourself and another of your fourteen generations.

It is not easy to erase modern day cricketers from memory – they may not hold cricket bats once they bow out but no one prevents them from wielding golf clubs.

Monday, June 27, 2005

fans to wave the fans of fantasy

Celebrities minus a fan following is a vision that is difficult to imagine, that no one can accept.

Whether the celeb is of the sports arena or the musical or literary fraternity or linked to the screens (either the large silver one or its mini edition, the tiny domestic one), a fan following is a must. The fans determine how long the celeb will survive, how long he will reap the benefits of being in the limelight before the focus shifts elsewhere. This is a well known fact of life.

This culture of fan following is a recent innovation – with a spurt in the number of celebs who want to get noticed, their PR group embarks on such exercises, they strive to gain the attention of those who will write the destiny of these celebs. The usual procedure is to first create a hype about the product, then release it in bits and pieces over a period of time, arrange for interviews on TV along with discreet parties here and there to sell the product. Constant rumor mongering is another important component. It is believed that with proper and hard selling PR, you can sell a dumb person as a vocalist full of promise.

Whether it is a novel or a music cassette or a music video, the basic idea is to get them hooked – celebs of yore were accustomed to receiving fan mails in post, their secretaries used to filter through the mail and select only a few that deserved to be put up to the celeb. Today, electronic media dictates the terms, mailboxes are flooded, and chat rooms throw open invitations to join the party – slots are fixed and announced. These become more prominent when the celebs appear to be losing out on their popularity ratings. Therefore you have aging film stars who invites you to SMS him and wait for his personal reply! These are all worlds of fantasy and you must have fans to fan the waves of popularity, if there are crests, they will be followed by troughs. You cannot rule the roost for ever; you have to make way for others at some point of time.

As they say, you must always be seen to be remembered, out of sight is out of mind. A favorite saying that is valid even today.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

the withering flowers

Flowers are epitomes of beauty. Right from time immemorial they have adorned bridal suites, drawing rooms, front offices; they symbolize the bright side of life, the beauty of living, the fragrance of sweetness, of innocence. Shakespeare made the rose immortal by his famous words – a rose is a rose by whatever name you may choose to call it, the lotus is our national symbol, we offer flowers to our Gods and Goddesses during pujas and seek their blessings because flowers, in all their freshness, signify a purity of the highest order. Flower arrangement is a course that teaches you how to transform ordinary looking gifts of nature into some remarkable works of art by adding imaginative touches.

It is, therefore, not unnatural that flowers find their due place in the fantasy world of cinemas.
There used to be a time when ‘phool’ (the Hindi translation of flower) featured in the titles of box office hits where memorable performances captured hearts of the viewers. At least ten names come to mind readily – these are as follows:

1959 Dhool ka phool (blossom of dust) – Mala Sinha
1959 Kagaz ke phool (paper flower) – Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman
1963 Phool bane angarey (flower becomes fire) – Raj Kumar, Mala Sinha
1965 Jab jab phool khiley (whenever the flower blossoms) - Shashi Kapoor,
Nanda
1969 Ek phool do mali (one flower two gardeners) – Sanjay Khan, Sadhana
1969 Aansoo ban gaye phool (tears transform into flowers) – Deb Mukherji,
Ahok Kumar
1966 Phool aur pathar (flowers and stones) – Meena Kumari,
Dharmendra, Sashikala
1991 Phool aur kante (flowers and thorns) – Ajay Devgan, Madhoo
1991 Pathar ke phool (flower of stones) – Solomon Khan, Raveena
1991 Phool baney angarey (flower becomes fire) – Rajnikant, Rekha

Once we used to say it all with flowers – they had a power of their own. It is strange that the same flower has ceased to motivate modern day film makers; probably phool is out of place in a world reeling with violence and scams.

When one can see animate examples of nature’s creations, why should they bother about inanimate creations like flowers?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

notable quotable quotes

The results of the American Film Institute, that identified the most notable quotable quotes from the cinemas, make good reading. Some selected examples will suffice to prove the point that a few words spoken with that long meaningful pause or the extra emphasis with just a tiny nod of the head or a blank, stony stare is enough to remain etched forever in the minds of the viewers.

The No. 1 position went to Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) in Gone with the wind (1939) – ‘frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’
No. 2 position bagged by Marlon Brando, Godfather (1972) – ‘I am going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.’
No. 3 also by Marlon Brando in the Waterfront (1954) – ‘You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am.’
No. 4 Judy Garland as Dorothy telling her dog in Wizard of Oz (1939) – ‘Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.’
No 5 was Humphrey Bogart as nightclub owner in Casablanca (1942) – ‘Here’s looking at you, kid.’
No 6 was Clint Eastwood playing cop Dirty Harry Callahan in Sudden Impact (1983) - ‘go ahead, make my day.’
No. 22 was James Bond (Sean Connery) in Dr. No (1962) – ‘Bond, James Bond.’

If we had a similar competition for Indian quotable quotes from the world of Indian cinema, I feel the fight for the top five slots would be between the following –

Sarah duniya mujhe Lion key naam se jaantey hai – Kalicharan, Ajeet
Mere paas maa hai – Deewar, Shashi Kapoor
Gandi naali key keedey – Hum, Amitabh Bachhan
Aaj bhi phekey huey paise uthatey nehi – Deewar, Amitabh Bachhan
Yeh haath mujhe de dey thakur – Sholay, Amjad Khan

Fellow bloggers may add to the list.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

the head hunters club

The tribe of head hunters is on the increase. They rear their heads from almost every corner and spring out from the most surprising of places to frighten the wits out of you. A net search for ‘the head hunter’ on Google throws up 2.1 million results while that on Yahoo does better at 2.85 million.

Our country is a land of Princes; we boast of zamindars who loved to spend their weekends in the company of close friends and relatives, hunting. They hunted deer, tigers, lions – the stuffed heads of the slain animals adorned the walls of their drawing rooms. They proudly displayed these heads and earned recognition among the nobility. It was a game that came to them naturally, a result of the influence of the British, people might say.

There used to be heads hunters of the terrible kind, reportedly native to the deep African jungles, the preserve of the likes of Phantom. Those who set out to discover new lands were invariably wary of these heads hunters – those who were lucky to return unharmed, narrated their experiences and always found any number of patient audiences who lapped up everything without batting an eyelid.

Those head hunters were cannibals, they loved human meat and treasured the heads – these heads were displayed on top of the entrance to their dens. Something akin to the fighter pilots of the World Wars who loved to keep track of the number of enemy planes they shot down or the cowboys who used to notch up their killings on the butt of their pearl handled Colts. They felt pride in glorifying their deeds and, the more number of heads you had to your credit, the more respect you earned, you acquired an elevated status in your society, others feared your prowess, and you gradually built up a reputation that had to be protected. Civilization has ensured that the rays of the sun filtered down to the dark undergrowth to remove such species from the horizon.

Head hunters today are those who set up offices in posh hotels to wean away employees who mean a lot to a company. They lure away the go-getters with promises of tax free take homes, lucrative incentives and any number of undisclosed perquisites that may include annual fully paid holidays to the Mediterranean! Today, everything goes – it’s a tough world, cut throat competition is the order of the day.

That is why the recent fuss over a person of the nobility, who reportedly shot an animal, is difficult to comprehend. Instead of training guns on someone who has hunting in his blood, why do the authorities not apprehend the poachers who are bent upon destroying the balance of nature by killing animals for monetary gains?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

flights of fantasy

It seems that nine private airlines from India have placed orders to buy 250 aircraft – the intention is to give the traveler a better option to reach his destination faster. Undercurrents are probably at play – power struggle between the railways and the aviation sectors.

In this context, a recent cartoon in one of the leading papers expresses it all – an aircraft waits for take off, its body is decorated with ads of biscuits, detergent soaps, cough mixtures, agarbattis and other such products. Passengers climb the ladder with large pumpkins on their heads; bedding tucked under their arms, at the bottom of the ladder is a vendor sells snacks. A broad hint that, in order to make flying affordable to the masses, those hot tasty snacks will soon be things of the past; probably even the tray of lozenges will be missing. Further economy in the form of less air hostesses and stewards will also be on the cards – after all, if eatables are not served, why lug extra persons on board? Those seats may just as well be up for sale!

It was a wonderful cartoon – a real life presentation of how our skies are planned to be invaded. Travelers are overjoyed at the fare cutting exercises – one airline even offers one-rupee fares on a select number of tickets every day: one rupee plus the Rs 221.00, as mandatory and unavoidable charges. The inner panels of the aero plane can carry advertisements that will compensate for the reduced fares, what you lose on the fares you make up on the ad revenue. It will ensure that happiness is spread all around!

A point for consideration is why such enthusiasm is absent in other areas? These have never featured in the manifestos of any political party but receive wonderfully preferential treatments. Those who want to connect each and every corner of the country know that existing facilities are grossly inadequate; linking places of worship with large tourist destinations is difficult. Even then, they try to achieve the impossible. As it is, the existing aircraft appear to be under utilized and uneconomical, how then can the additional 350 survive? Can it be expected that by the time these are inducted, airport facilities will improve, as also associated infra structure like good motorable roads that link airports with the city proper?

In addition, a large number of training establishments are mushrooming to cash in on this so-called boom. They want to groom boys and girls to take up careers in the airline industry. We have seen ads on TV depicting how girls, with dark skins apply lotions to improve the color of their skins and join the elite brigade of air hostesses. But, with cheap flying on the cards, where do the hopefuls go?

There was a proposal to link the major rivers to ensure better distribution of the precious commodity called water; it is shelved as being not feasible. But we do want to lay pipelines to bring gas from far off places.

We really are a topsy turvy nation.

Monday, June 20, 2005

smoke screens

The latest decision of the government to ban scenes that depict smoking on screens with effect from a date to be decided upon in the future, is welcome. Let us hope that this really helps in lifting the smoke screens once and for all. Smoking is bad, we know it. It results in cancer, we know that also. It is costly, no one doubts that. In fact, the authorities admit as much and keep increasing taxes on it to keep it away from the reach of commoners. But, still, smoking is something that practically 99% of the youth try out when crossing over from childhood to adolescence. It is that period in ones life when the charm, of holding the white cylindrical object in between ones lips and imitate some personality or another, is irresistible. The lips have yet to lose their pink glow. Given sufficient time, those lips will lose color, and become lifeless - as the owner of that pair of lips keeps adding years to his personality.

With regard to existing films that are normally preserved in libraries and removed from the archives once in a while for reviving memories of the golden era lost forever, the proposal envisages the mandatory display of the warning – ‘smoking is injurious to your health.’ It does not specify where that display is to be posted or the minimum duration of its scrolling. Where sub-titles appear, it will be terribly difficult to accommodate every thing on the tiny TV screen. A way out would be to reduce the size of the letters and merge them with the smoke that trickles out of the glowing cigarette end. But, then, when popular Westerns or memorable war pictures are shown, where smoking is the order of the day, that scrolling will take away a lot of the charm.

It is extremely difficult to conjure up scenes of Sir Winston Churchill minus his cigar! Or our own cine personalities like K. N. Singh, Ashok Kumar, Dev Anand, Kamal Mitra, Pahari Sanyal or Amitabh Bachhan without their patent smoke screens.

While on the subject of smoke screens, why does not some enthusiastic persons or group of persons join together and start a crusade against skimpy dresses of filmy heroines. This is not to belittle the tolerance levels of today’s audiences but, if allowed to continue unabated, we will very soon have mill owners on the streets demanding compensation for the loss of revenue from sale of ladies clothes and garments.

The Government must sit up and take notice before it becomes too late.

the lpg syndrome

The whole of last week he hogged the headlines, whichever TV channel you switched on to, he was there either at the receiving end of tirades or at the delivery end of clarifications. LP, once upon a time, used to denote Long Playing records – that is gramophone records that ran at 33.3 rpm, were flexible, measured nearly one foot in diameter and contained songs that could run non stop for half an hour to 45 minutes each side. Now it is the LPG phenomenon, ‘Louha Purush Gone’.

To the uninitiated, Louha Purush means an Iron Man, in other words a Long Playing man who sticks to his principles, come what may. He never gets swayed by sentiments; he possesses a clear-cut vision, he never backtracks, he always wants to forge ahead. He is forever on the lookout for breaking newer grounds and does not hesitate to call a spade a spade knowing fully well that the same spade may be used by opportunists to dig his grave! It is evident from his present expressions that he is now a changed person, he has learnt lessons the hard way, lessons that they do not teach in any samaj. The world was stunned when he spoke whatever he did speak, people kept their fingers crossed waiting for sinister developments and gauge the turbulence of the under currents and the direction in which they flow. The clouds ultimately passed, without precipitation – unreliable, like our met forecasts. For once, leaders shied away from the camera, even if the camera did focus on some of the wise men and women, the audience were treated to blank stares.

Alas, the images are short lived.

The game over, people have retired to their corners and wait for the bell to ring to announce the start of another game. This is intermission time. Rest awhile, recoup your strengths, confirm that your allies have not deserted you and jump into the ring for the next bout. There are any number of bones to fight for.

Right now it is centre stage for a battle of a different kind – the battle of siblings who do not support the policy of share what you have. The visionary who created an empire must be realizing his folly of not having spelt out, in advance, the formula of happy living. He also was a Louha Purush of sorts, he had all the qualities. Whenever anyone writes modern day Indian history, he can never ignore the contributions of this person. It is unfortunate that his children now fight it out in the streets just like any commoners. No amount of lavishness can wipe away the fact that the empire is disintegrating. The signals that emanate are not ambiguous.

Does the Louha Purush syndrome last for only one generation?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

minnows take over

It has finally happened – it has once again been proved that no one is invincible. Those who make such statements are usually forced to eat humble pie at a later date.

It’s all about cricket and how unpredictable a game it is.

The Aussies are the World champions, and consider themselves to be invincible. But, the Bangladeshis have shown that, given a determination to beat the best coupled with a dedicated performance by one and all, it is not impossible to turn the tables. Especially, with the cricketing world baying for their blood, they have proved that they can contribute their bit to make the game more interesting.

Soon after their poor performance in the Test matches in England, the team came in for severe criticism. Former Australian captain Merv Hughes made a statement that – ‘Bangladesh were not up to Test cricket standard and should, instead, be playing at a more realistic level….. It’s bad for the game. It belittles averages. And, it’s bad for spectators.’ Similar sentiments were expressed by Shane Warne – ‘the worst aspect is that I cannot see any light on the horizon for Bangladesh.’ Even Javed Miandad did not mince words when he commented that Bangladesh should be suspended from test cricket until they improve – ‘it is obvious now that Bangladesh cricket is going nowhere…’

Suddenly, this team has become a force to reckon with, overnight!

We, in India, thought of ourselves as the number two. But, over the months, we have dropped several places and may finally land up at the bottommost position of the table. Our star batsmen are turning out to be threats to a cohesive team who are itching to perform. Unfortunately, new faces are ignored. Sponsors who have invested millions in some of the old stalwarts, who once spelt money even now hope for the tides of fortunes to turn. News trickles out of how some of our boys are practicing overseas and are striving hard to return to form. Our sympathies go out to the newest addition to the Indian cricket fraternity in the form of Greg Chappell. He has a tough climb ahead of him.

Before the selection committee sits to finalize the team of the future, plenty of strings will be pulled. Let us pray that a day does not come when minnows take over the honors and leave us in the wilderness.

Friday, June 17, 2005

what makes a writer click

This is the would-be crorepati’s question which remains shrouded forever in mystery. Get hold of an overseas publisher and you can make your mark, is an advice given to many. This is true for those who practice in the English language. We have them cropping from all corners – there are any number of would-be Jhumpa Lahiris who wait in the wings for a break. Today, we are members of a global community. We have in our midst writers like Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Khuswant Singh. The World is our stage, we perform to the global audience and, by virtue of such a large audience, we are guaranteed of success of sorts. In the bargain, if one earns the distinction of an award of sorts, it adds to the glory.

Some interesting observations on a few literary works reported recently in the press are as follows –

Piece of cake – Swati Kaushal, 367 pages, Rs 250.00, Penguin
Five point someone – Chetan Bhagat, Rs 95.00, Rupa
The geographer’s library – Jon Fasman, 374 pages, Rs 450.00, Penguin
The dark tower V – Wolves of the Calla – Stephen King, 777 pages, Rs 780.00, Pocket books
The World is flat – Thomas L Friedman, 488 pages, Rs 710.00, Penguin
Broken Verses, Kamila Shamsie, 338 pages, Rs 513,.00, Bloomsbury
How to grow a backbone – Susan Marshal, 197 pages, Rs 195.00. Tata McGraw Hill
Murder List – Julia Garwood, 425 pages, Ballantyne Books
The Zahir – Paulo Coelho, 342 pages, Rs 295, Harper Collins

It can be safely inferred that it is the day of writers who can churn out pages after pages. Computers have made life a lot easier for writers. Manuscripts can be readied in no time. Once the writer is able to sell his idea with examples of what he can deliver, he has won half the battle. The other half falls into his lap if he gets hold of an agent who can ensure his entry into one of the elite clubs that, in turn, helps garner more and more support for his writings.

Just for records, J K Rowling, created Harry Potter – one of the first ones in the series (the prisoner of Azkaban) published in 1999 is 317 pages, one more in 2000 (the Goblet of fie) is 636 pages and a third one in 2003 (the order of he Phoenix) is 766 pages.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

nothing sell like non sense

Indians authors lack the ability to sustain the flow of non sense – whether it is verse or prose, they lose concentration after sometime and draw the line. Unlike Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, who goes from strength to strength. And, each of her books has enough weight behind them to literally knock you over! She has proved, if proof is necessary, that nothing sells like nonsense.

Consider the great Sukumar Ray, who created that gem of a book ‘ha-ja-ba-ra-la’. There are lots of similarities with ‘Alice in Wonderland’. But, where Lewis Carol continues with his follow up ‘Through the looking glass’, Sukumar does not venture further. Instead, he goes on to his book of verses, Abol Tabol. Here again, once sees snippets of Lewis Carol. This is not to belittle the genius in Sukumar Ray but, the fact remains that we do not have the ability to go on and on looking for more and more items to tear apart through nonsensical representations.

There was Premendra Mitra who gave birth to a character called Ghanada. This gentleman allows full freedom to his imagination and comes up with remarkable situations. His writings had tremendous appeal to those who were young during the sixties! Because, his settings were such that those youths could readily identify them with his characters. In those days, most Bengali youths used to work in Calcutta and go home to their villages on weekends. Their stay in Calcutta used to be in bachelor accommodation known as ‘mess’. These used to be located near the Sealdah station for ease of conveyance of the bachelors. The inimitable Ghanada was a resident in one of these messes and, when his staunch followers come up to him and pester him for narrating one more of his adventures, he opens up the flood gates. He coined phrases that were weird, situations that were totally removed from reality.

In line with Ghanada was another dada, Tenida, one more brotherly character from the pens of Narain Gangopadhaya. His characters were basically meant for children nearing the end of their schooling, teen-agers in modern parlance. He has twelve volumes of stories to his credit and, his creations are applicable to a bygone era because today’s teenagers sharpen their claws on skills that Tenida would never have imagined. Today’s teenagers have Professor Shanku and the Feluda-Topshe duo, who possess more modern outlook. It is unfortunate that authors like Narain Gangopadhaya and Premendra Mitra did not get the recognition they deserve because of lack of marketing skills by their publishers and family members. Here again, they are known to very few outside Bengal. One character of Narain Gangopadhaya is Patla, a boy always plagued by stomach ailments, a common disease of Bengalis. His diet used to be magur macher jhol, a preparation of a type of fish known as ‘magur’ which is easy to digest. Today’s children and even the younger generation would never be able to identify with this character because such situations and surroundings are things that have vanished.

(to be continued…)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

what ails indian writers

Bengali authors like Tarashankar Bandopadhaya, Bimal Mitra, and Sunil Gangopadhaya have churned out masterpieces. Whether the novels are historical ones or they deal with the fluctuating fortunes of modern day living, it goes without saying that they had to put in hours of study of the past (by referring to authentic documents) so that readers are not able to find faults in the information that have historical importance. Just like film directors who, while presenting the era of by gone days, strive to ensure correctness even in the dresses worn by the people involved – distortion of history is never acceptable. That is why, when large publication houses decide on a subject that is to be handled, the author is given sufficient time to familiarize himself with the background. From information gathered, it seems that at least six to eight month’s time are given, along with a suitable compensation package as incentive.

Unfortunately, all writers do not have it so good.

In this age, unsolicited writings are not welcome. They find a one way ticket to the trash can. It is well nigh impossible to enjoy the privilege of seeing your name in print alongside the torch bearers. But, the creative half of you cannot close the pen - write he must. Just to get it off his chest, he puts pen to paper. He even sends the manuscript across, following all the laid down guidelines hoping against hope that, this could be the break he is waiting for. Unfortunately, in a majority of the cases, his dream remains a dream. Unknown to him, his work may get printed somewhere and, when he goes to enquire about the manuscript that he had submitted, he would return empty handed, with the standard reply – ‘it is lost in the huge volume of letters and stories that come into our office every day!’

As a result, they turn to little magazines that sprout whenever the situation so demands and vanishes once it loses its patrons who are invariably drawn together by a bond of giving to the world something to chew upon. I remember a racket that was popular in the seventies – I was involved in one of them. The publishers had a wonderful business going, they had the license of a monthly magazine. In each of its issues, it would carry the translation of a crime novel. The page numbers were adjusted such that they matched with the page numbers as in any book. In those days, composing of pages was done manually. So, once the matter was composed, they would get a few hundred copies of the magazine printed and then go for printing books also! All they had to do additionally was to get a cover printed. The magazines were priced at two few rupees each while the books went to around twenty rupees. These were mostly distributed through the railway book stalls. Based on the feedback of the stall owners, the covers would be changed if they did not appeal to the readers.

(to be continued…)

Monday, June 13, 2005

what is the magic

Someone once said that a novel is similar to a classical song – once the singer begins, he has to keep the audience enthralled with his voice meandering all over the countryside, sometimes going to exotic heights and then gradually settling down to the lower levels. The art lies in how best he can modulate his vocal chords and repeatedly convert the lyrics into a magical web from where it is difficult, well nigh impossible to detach oneself. Proof, if any, can be seen in the classical musical conferences held in cities like Kolkata and Lucknow where the culture still exists. Usually held in winter, the sessions begin after dinner and continues till the wee hours of the morning. The listeners wrap themselves up in shawls and sit like statues, allowing the strains to mesmerize them.

The novel should have a similar appeal.

I am reminded of a novel by Chanakya Sen – the name of the novel was ‘A’ (the first letter of the Bengali alphabet – pronounced as ‘awe’). There was an interview with an educated unemployed young man that went on for nearly four pages. He had come for a job and the one line questions and their cryptic mono syllabic replies not only was absorbing but gave a clear picture of what manipulation is all about, how people who matter are awarded, how those that have lost favor with the top levels are discarded. He is assured of a fully furnished flat, car with a driver and all that anyone can ask for provided he delivers. And what must he deliver? Well, if he is told that the year’s award for the best actress should go to so-and-so, he will have to ensure that it does. For that, he must locate respectable people who can be made to cast the vote in favor of the chosen actress!

Yes, he finally gets the job when he agrees to throw all scruples to the winds.

The novel appeared in the Puja Special issue of one of the second rung magazines in the late sixties. The author Chanakya Sen is a fantastic story teller in his own right. Like another of my favorite authors Shankar and Nemai Bhattacharji. They have this ability to describe every day people, situations and happenings in such vivid a way that, in no time, you are charmed by their magic and become an integral part and parcel of their creations. These gentlemen are born writers. Others in this category are Mahasweta Devi, Ashapurna Devi, Ashutosh Mukhopadhaya, Prafulla Roy, Dibyendu Palit, Gajendra Kumar Mitra, Shirshendu Mukhopadhaya, Samaresh Majumdar and Bimal Kar to name a few. As far as my knowledge goes, they have managed to escape being influenced by the administration.

It is a sad state of affairs that many of these talented writers are unknown beyond the boundaries of Bengal! In the e-world of today, concerted efforts should be made to bring them into the global community.

(to be continued…)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

fate of indian writers

It is strange that the presence of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhaya is miniscule on the net even though movies based on his novels are the rage of the day. Devdas, Parineeta are finding takers globally, thanks to the marketing strategies evolved by assigning new look artistes and settings while trying to retain the old world charms. Director after director tries to prove his one-upmanship. It is undoubtedly, a great feeling for the efforts to spread Indian culture – the sari is catching the fancy of the West; even Oprah tried it out, thanks to Aishwarya Rai! Probably, the next series to hit the screens will be the Srikanto episodes – they have enough substance to make the world sit up and take notice.

Unfortunately, no one has bothered to put his life story or details about his writings on the internet.

It must be said that with the gradual encroachment of various forms of entertainment of the shorter versions, the attraction of the printed word is fading into oblivion. Till quite recently, there used to be sections in the newspapers and magazines where writers had chances, however slim they might have been, of discovering their potentials. Those options have shrunk just as the dress of our heroines of the celluloid and the tiny screens are shrinking. Apparently, some sort of competition is on to identify an idol who can bear to bare the maximum without losing self composure. As some have already discovered, baring too much poses problems in personal life also: the man on the street considers you to be cheap and easily affordable!

Small time magazines are invariably swallowed up by the larger fishes because, no one likes to encourage competition of any sort whatsoever. Who knows, one fine day, the tiny four page magazine being ignored today may suddenly find some patron who can manipulate strings to make it enter the arena and compete with the stalwarts!

Yes, writing today is a cut throat game. If you do not have the contacts, just forget it. From what it seems, writers are literally created by the big houses as business strategies to augment their market potentials. The subjects that are to be encouraged are clearly spelt out as also subjects that are considered taboo. The fashions of the day are dictated by these magazines, fashions of not just the newly weds or the would-be brides but also for school and college going kids. Then there are the special nooks where free medical advice is doled out for free along with legal advice. The most pitiful part is that despite such doses of knowledge, crime does not seem to have been contained. Bride burning, harassment by in-laws, pre and post marital relationships continue. Lawyers who handle divorce cases are laughing their way to the banks. The apparent gainers are those who control the magazines and, in turn, dictate which products need to be promoted.

(to be continued…)