Sunday, August 29, 2010

ভাঁড় মাড়ানো

ছোটবেলা থেকেই কিছু জিনিসে অদ্ভুত পৈশাচিক আনন্দ পেতাম; তার একটা হল কাগজের ঠোঙা ফুলিয়ে ফাটানো; আরেকটা হল ফ্রুটি (বা ট্রী টপ নামক লুপ্ত ব্র্যাণ্ড) খেয়ে তার বাক্স ফুলিয়ে লাথি মেরে ফাটানো (হামেশাই ফাটতনা, তখন রাস্তায় ছুঁড়ে দিতাম, আর বাসের চাকা ওর ওপর দিয়ে গিয়ে মারাত্মক শব্দ হত)।

যাইহোক্‌, বড় হওয়ার সঙ্গে সঙ্গে এগুলো ক্রমশ: চলে যেতে থাকে। কিন্তু যেটা অনেকদিন যাবৎ যায়নি, সেটা হল রাস্তায় পড়ে থাকা খালি ভাঁড় সহ্য করতে না পারা; যতই তাড়া থাকুক, একদম সামনে এসে জুতো দিয়ে vertically মেরে চুরমার করে অপার্থিব আনন্দ পেতাম।

কয়েকবছর আগে আমার এক মার্কিন সহকর্মী কলকাতায় আসে, আর লক্ষ্য করে যে আমরা চা খেয়ে ভাঁড় ফেলে দিই। খুব অবাক হয়ে সে বলে, "why do you throw away these beautiful terracotta pots?"

Beautiful terracotta pots? ভাঁড় তো! মানে, তার এত ভাবসম্প্রসারণ করার, তাকে এত সম্মান দেওয়ার কি আছে? বোঝালাম।

কিন্তু সে বদ্ধপরিকর, চা না খেয়ে চায়ের দাম দিয়ে নতুন শুকনো ভাঁড় নিয়ে ফিরল। আমাকে জানাল, বসার ঘরে শোকেসে সাজিয়ে রেখেছে, সবাই দেখে ধন্য ধন্য করেছে।

এখানেই শেষ নয়। পরেরবার এসে বাবা-মা-জ্ঞাতিগুষ্টি সবার জন্য একটা করে ভাঁড় নিয়ে গেল; জানলাম, সেই অসামান্য beautiful terracotta pots দেখে সবাই একটা করে আনতে বলেছে, ঘর সাজাবে বলে। অতএব তাদের কেনা হল, টিস্যু দিয়ে সন্তর্পণে সুদৃশ্য প্যাকিং হল, আর তারা আন্তর্জাতিক বিমানবন্দর হয়ে বিদেশ পাড়ি দিল।

তারপর থেকে যতবার রাস্তায় ভাঁড় দেখি, ভাঙতে হাজার ইচ্ছে করলেও সংযত হই, সম্মান দেখিয়ে সসম্ভ্রমে পাশ কাটিয়ে চলে যাই। যতই হোক্‌, beautiful terracotta pots ওরা। তাই ভাঁড় দেখলেই গোপালের মত সুবোধ modeএ চলে আসি।

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ma, tujhe salaam

Anyone with a name like Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was destined to be special. After all, you don't come across a name with two X's everyday. It's a miracle that her first name was Agnes, and not something like Xerxes or Xerox.

She didn't like her name, though, and renamed herself after Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries. She was obsessed with X's, I suppose (the first Missionaries of Charity in the USA was at Bronx) - possibly because she was destined to be on a quest unknown hitherto to mankind.

She was different, you see. In an age where people craved for each other's blood and powerful nations ate up smaller ones, she actually dared to love strangers in a country alien to her. I mean, what the hell? In a nation where muscle power and authority rule all and sundry, she actually chose to reign by humility. In a world that glared at everyone with raging bloody eyes, she did use the most honest of smiles.

Ridiculous. There is no other word for it.

Today is exactly a hundred years since she was born. Thirteen years after her death (I remember the night vividly; they flashed it across the Doordarshan screen during a movie; I had immediately called up a friend of mine - someone who had introduced me to Missionaries of Charity) she's still the face of Kolkata to the world, more than Tagore, Ray and Ganguly. The three, despite being achievers of various levels of greatness, didn't really end up providing morsels to the poorest of the poor. They enhanced our lives through their creations and performances; she gave lives to entities we don't bother to consider as humans.

That's what, well, mothers do. It's just that they do it for their own children. She made children out of strangers, and did it for everyone. Yet we kept on criticising her, accusing her of converting street children or lepers to Christianity. And still she kept on responding with that outrageous smile of hers that would convert the filthiest of souls to a lifetime submission.

I sometimes wonder what we have ever done to deserve her. I know that the DD 7 news shall flash reports of her birth centenary being celebrated everywhere, and within a day or two, we shall forget her as conveniently as we have been able to do.

But then, given the great leveller that life is, we have had to tolerate the likes of Aishwariya Rai, Amisha Patel and Sania Mirza over the years. I suppose that's torture enough to even out the fact that we have got her even though we didn't deserve her.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Serious stuff

A mighty impressive country, this. They do not tolerate any kind of filth over here. You won't find a speck of dust anywhere over here. They don't even like insects that prefer filth. Take cockroaches, for example: they don't like cockroaches. There's nothing wrong with that - most people do not like them (barring, possibly, our friends from the Far East, who absolutely love them on a platter). But the Americans have taken things to a different level altogether here. They not only eradicate them, they have planned to eliminate it altogether; and this vindictiveness is so extreme that they have probably taken it as a mission to neuter it; and this neutering business is so vociferous that they've shortened the name, and call it a roach.

When they mean business, they do whatever it takes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nuevas

Each of the leading ladies of the black-and-white era had an aura of their own. If Madhubala could torment the most sombre of souls with her crackling laughter, Meena Kumari could mesmerise you with her incredible ability to depict the woes of a woman on screen. If Nargis had the most expressive eyes (and the most spacious nostrils), Vyjayanthimala could take the theatre by storm with her nimble, gracious presence. If Waheeda could reach out for the deepest of emotions, Mala Sinha could humble everyone by her natural flair. They were all phenomenal performers, and yet none of them were my favourites from that era.

Economy of emotions: just look at those eyes
Born of a director and an actress (though neither of substantial reputation), Nutan Samarth Behl made her debut in Humari Beti in 1950. Seven years later she won her first Filmfare Award for the Best Actress for Seema. She bagged four more, for Sujata (1959), Bandini (1963), Milan (1968) and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1970). In the process she created two records that still stand - winning the award for a record five times, and also winning it at an incredible-by-Bollywood standards age of 42. Not content, she won the award for The Best Supporting Actress for Meri Jung in 1985. That's not all - she was nominated twice each for Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki and Saudagar - both for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

Awards, however, do not tell Nutan's story. She was virtually flawless throughout Bandini in an era where Bollywood was synonymous to glamour, glitz and melodrama. She never had the role support in the movie, yet no one ever cast a look at the rest of the cast, even Asha Parekh with the obvious public sympathy, in Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki. She never seemed to overdo things - she had everything under control. Seldom has an actress been so accurately economic with her emotions - every smile was controlled, every tear was measured, every glare was the way it was supposed to be. And yet she captured the audience's imagination with her incredible array of emotional display. She wasn't about scandals or headlines: she simply acted, and was a performer way ahead of her generation. She made Sujata happen, she made Milan the epic saga that it was, no one missed Nargis in Anari, and made those two Dev Anand classics - Paying Guest and Tere Ghar ke Saamne - possible.

Two songs, however, stand out in my mind whenever I think of Nutan. Interestingly, both of them are male solo numbers, a fact that makes her performances even more special. Underrated as ever, she never needed to put lips to the lines. The leading actors had the privilege of moving their lips, and Nutan's eyes did the rest, throughout both songs: each and every moment would possibly make you feel that she has done justice to her talent, and, well, lived up to her name with every expression.

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The controlled emotional display is simply unbelievable. Not only is it about a woman being loved, it's also about the helplessness of the untouchable. Not a single eyebrow is out of place - it's amazing how she could pull it off so effortlessly when her generation could have easily compelled her to overdo things.

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Once again, the economy of emotions is unbelievable. An almost antithesis of the previous song, Nutan shows she can excel in the display of all possible emotions, depict a character of any kind and pull off a wide range of performances with incredible ease.

I wish the industry could do more justice to her talent. I sincerely do.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The ultimate fan

For ages I was under the idea that I was the ultimate cricket fan. In fact, I was the only one I knew who sat through the entire duration of Netherlands vs Scotland matches, and didn't quit watching even when India were 150/9 chasing Pakistan's 300. I had skipped gatherings, lucrative ones, to follow highlights of the day's play, have hit the F5 unlimited times during Irani Trophy matches, and have checked for cricket updates on my cellphone at funerals. I have ruined exams, bunked campus interviews and grown obese, and that's not good enough to describe my dedication to the game.

But this, in my opinion, is ultimate. He is the fan. Cricinfo can actually make a remarkable commercial out of this comment:


Take a bow, mate, whoever and wherever you are.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Randiv ban

It was one of those triangular series - featuring New Zealand along with India and Sri Lanka, who have faced each other 34,987,598,347 times in the last year. Okay, maybe a couple of times less.

Sri Lanka posted a modest 170, and Sehwag put up a very matured show to help India reach 166/4 in 34 overs. With only five runs to go and Sehwag on 99, Sangakkara handed the ball to Hewa Kaluhalamullage Suraj Randiv Kaluhalamulla, popularly known by his third and fourth names (I would have loved it, had it been the second and fifth names, though).

The first ball keeps low, beats Sehwag and Sangakkara, and runs away for four byes. Mind you, the press had later accused Sanga of letting it go deliberately. This means that after Sehwag had missed it, Sanga had made up in mind to let it go. Which makes Sanga the best wicketkeeper in the history of the game, since he had to take the decision in about 0.1 seconds (had Sehwag edged it he would have caught it, not let it go, so it was the fastest reflex action ever).

Anyway, no one is really bothered about Sanga. No one wants to touch the really important ones when there's a scapegoat handy, isn't it?

Randiv followed up with two innocuous dot balls, and then, this happened:


Let me make something clear before I proceed here: I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the no-ball was deliberate. He had done it on purpose to stop Sehwag from scoring a hundred. There are two aspects that I would want to point out, though:

How serious an offence was this?
As per the Indian media, Randiv has taken cricket to a new ebb. Apparently this was an atrocious act, preventing Sehwag from getting a hundred. He should have allowed Sehwag to get it, as per the Indian media, and his act was, according to them, something really pathetic.

Why?

I mean, are there many bowlers in this world, who would actually have wanted that hundred to happen? I cannot understand the logic - why should Randiv have allowed that hundred to happen? He has not done anything that goes against the laws of the game. I know that there's an added bit to it called the spirit of the game, but that probably has already been registered among The Top Ten Vague Concepts of All Time.

What spirit? I can't even bowl a no-ball when I feel like it? Someone is on 99, and I have to bowl at his bat, in order to allow him to get that one run? WHY? Can I not even overstep at will? Isn't that putting too much restriction on the bowler? You cannot bowl a no-ball if someone is on 99 and the team needs one to win - I mean, how ridiculous is that? What next? If someone has got four wickets, can't the last pair end up falling to another bowler or get run out? What is wrong with that?

Randiv didn't do anything wrong, in my opinion. Even if he had, he did apologise to Sehwag (and Sanga to Kirsten), they had accepted the apologies, and that should be the end of it.

It didn't.

The media made a farce of the entire incident. It was blown out of proportions, and the poor guy, who did something that was actually an on-the-spur thing and had later apologised for it, was made to look like the worst villain in the history of the game. The Sidhus went hyper on air (I'm not sure of this, but such incidents always involve Sidhu, standing up in the studio and shouting meaningless banters). Bedi commented that Randiv should be banned for five matches (he actually had a right to: at Karachi in 1978 Gavaskar had batted out of his skin to score 111 and 137 to place India in a position that he thought safe; Bedi decided not to bowl negative, got smashed by Miandad and Imran, and lost the test for us thanks to some cavalier tomofoolery).

Fingers were cast at Sri Lanka for not allowing Ganguly to score a hundred at Kandy or Tendulkar to score a hundred at Cuttack. What we conveniently forgot that in the first occasion Kaif leg-glanced once from Vaas for four to leave Ganguly stranded, and in the second one, Karthik hit a straight six off Randiv to put Tendulkar almost out of contention. How about doing a bit of research before you accuse the innocent, folks?

Then the unthinkables started to happen. Sri Lanka Cricket actually announced that it was about to put an enquiry into the matter. An enquiry to find out WHAT? The fact that the no-ball was deliberate? AFTER Randiv has confessed and apologised for it? What's the point? Putting up an enquiry commission that would provide a PowerPoint presentation on the issue that the world already knows about?

And then, they put a one-match ban on the poor guy. This was the same board that stood by Muralitharan and his bowling action a decade back, setting us an amazing example of how to support your players when the world is criticising it, ultimately resulting in making ICC change the cut-off margin for throwing. I suppose you need to have had so many wickets, or have a Ranatunga backing you for the board to be behind you.

But then, SLC has had financial help from BCCI in the past, so they axed an apologetic innocent youngster to satisfy BCCI and it's muscle power. After all, who cares about an upcoming talent when BCCI can easily ban all Sri Lankans from the IPL, had SLC not kept them happy?

And still they call this the most noble game of all.

Should the law be changed?
The other aspect, though, is about the law. If you ask me, it should be changed. The ball did go down as one faced by Sehwag (it was the 100th ball he faced in the innings), so the runs he scored should have been counted as well. ICC's point of view is that the match gets over as soon as the umpire calls it a no-ball; but shouldn't the outcome of the delivery be important as well?

This leads me to this match: with Sussex having one run to win, Mark Alleyne bowled a wide, and Mark Robinson was stumped by Jack Russell. Interestingly, the run counted, Sussex won, and Robinson was considered as out. If this could have happened, why cannot Sehwag be awarded the six, or for that matter, why would the outcome of the entire delivery not be considered?

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An interesting observation by a friend: had Randiv conceded that six, Sri Lanka's net run rate after the match would've been -1.68. Their net run rate, after conceding that no-ball, is -1.56. If all the teams get tied on points and Sri Lanka just about scrapes through on net run rate, Randiv shall possibly be hailed as a hero for displaying supreme strategic skills.

Gift-wraps

Gift-wraps are definitely a part of those aspects of life that have intrigued me the most over the years. Exactly why people wrap their gifts in these cute-looking sheets has been a perpetually elusive mystery. I mean, I've heard people exclaim "oh, what a lovely gift!", but how frequently have you heard the phrase "oh, what a lovely gift-wrap!"?

Of course, some people have valid reasons, for example, hiding the fact that they have been recycling hideous-looking dinner-sets or bedcovers in the wedding of an uncle's neighbour's niece, whom you're not likely to meet again, and who is very likely not to remember you at all (which, in my opinion, is way better than anyone commenting upon how much I've grown over all these years, and how difficult it is now to recognise my features).

But the most bizarre feature of gift-wraps are the way in which they are recycled. Almost every mother in this universe is under the constant belief that gift-wraps are the most difficult-to-obtain items ever created. Hence, they always cringe, and often scream, if gift-wraps are hastily ripped apart. They are to be removed, step by step, right from the gentle peeling off or meticulous shredding of the cellotape using a blade to the removal of the red string or golden ribbon to the dismantling of the wrap itself. Why? To put it away, as intact as possible, in store for some obscure future where gift-wraps shall become as extinct as dodos. What if someone needs to pack a gift in those dark ages of mankind? The mothers always plan ahead, and stack gift-wraps neatly under the mattresses, to go with the millions of plastic carry-bags acquired over decades of shopping and exchange of gifts.

And yet, when the next gift is scheduled to be wrapped, the gift-wraps are either forgotten or a couple of inches too short, and hence a new one has to be acquired. And guess what happens to the leftovers of this new wrap? :)

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PS: Consumerism has brought about a massive revolution in the gift-wrap industry over the last decade. Every store seems to have its own branded gift-wrap, and they even employ people at Customer Service for wrapping gifts (and they still say we do not think about the unemployed). Amidst all these brands, the incredibly thin sheets of gift-wrap, pink in colour with minuscule flowers drawn on them, has vanished somewhere, taking a chunk of my childhood along with it. Still now, whenever I think of the bed I had spent my best years on, I can visualise my mother lifting the mattress and placing yet another of those wrapping papers underneath it, possibly for use in the year 2746.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The 63rd birthday

I felt compelled to write something as we turned 63. To be very honest, I think about my homeland a lot more when I'm away, and that's true for most people. As I started to write this without a proper plan in mind, the first thought that came to my mind was to write something about the person who comes to my mind whenever I think of the country or the national flag.

Gandhi, I suppose, would win the popular vote over here, especially among foreigners, to whom India still means the land of Gandhi (and of Mother Teresa). Whether Gandhi played a positive role in the history of our illustrious nation is still debatable; however, what cannot be denied is the fact that people all over the world hold him in an incredible esteem, and he's the perhaps the strongest representative of our nation to the world.

Buddha, the other strong candidate, might lose out on the ground that his birthplace is currently in Nepal; however, it cannot be denied that a substantial percentage of the world do celebrate his name, and the count is increasing with passage of time. If Gandhi remains the most recognised Indian face in the world, Buddha shall remain the most influential one.

On the other hand, if you really do consider the impact of an Indian individual in 2010, it would be hard to look beyond Sachin Tendulkar. Possibly the only name in the history of the nation to have been worshipped by all, irrespective of all the diversity you've read about in history books, Tendulkar is the only one for whom a millionaire stands next to a beggar outside a television shop and discuss the scores with equal enthusiasm. And then, there's the walk to the crease: I always get the feeling that an invisible tricolour is accompanying him to the centre, similar to the little one at the back of his helmet.

But no, none of the three is my Indian. Whenever I think of India, one, and only name comes to my mind: born Harikishan Giri Goswami, Manoj Kumar has exemplified Indian patriotism more than anyone else. We have dared to laugh at him, but he was relentless in directing and acting in independently and identically distributed films, one after the other, each one of them more patriotic than the previous one. He played a farmer and a soldier (of all professions, the jawaan and the kisaan possibly extract most emotions and drench most handkerchiefs) in Upkaar, and a patriot in almost all other movies he has acted in. He, more than anyone, is more Indian than anyone, even more Indian than Sunny Deol was in his magnum opus, Indian.

This video, extracted from Clerk, the only possible threat to Gunda's claim to the throne of unrivalled greatness is my tribute to his legacy.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

The bygone jugs

I always had a throat problem, so wasn't typically allowed to drink chilled water. As a result, this is how my childhood afternoons merged into evenings: it grew dark, I returned home from street cricket or football in the park, thirstier than anything-to-which-the-as-thirsty-as-similie-can-be-assigned-to, and took the stainless steel water-filled jug on the table, rotated its lid so that the small netted circle came into alignment with the triangular snout, and you know the rest.

Where have all the jugs gone?

There used to multiple ones in every household. They could have been of stainless steel or plastic (transparent or otherwise; I've even seen plastic jugs with scales for measuring liquids marked on its side), or if you were really elite, then of glass. But jugs were everywhere. They were all the same: there was a triangular snout, and the lid consisted of two circular holes - one netted to allow a slower flow of water for the user to drink, the other a full uninterrupted circle to allow the user to pour water into lesser containers like a glass.

They used to be in all sorts of places, from dining tables to bedside tables, from hotel rooms to picnics, from playgrounds to conferences. But for no reason whatsoever, they have disappeared completely from our lives.

They seem to turn up, that too only the opaque versions (for some reasons mostly the sea-green ones with boring blue or turquoise designs on the surface) only at the most ordinary roadside rice-and-fish joints and the most humble tea outlets.

We have advanced technologically and taken massive footsteps backwards hygienically to migrate to used bottles of soft drinks and mineral water, instead; the smarter ones do use stuff like PearlPet, but the point remains that we have banished jugs from our everyday life altogether. We don't use glasses at home either - just the bottles. We have somehow managed to banish those grotesque creations of stainless steel and plastic (and glass, if you're elite) altogether from our lives.

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Moral of the story: When bottles appear in hordes in your life, they can make you forget everything. Even jugs.

Subah

I was always taught that Bollywood had five legendary singers. Three of them male - Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh; the other two female, and from the same family. There were other great singers, but these five have been bracketed as legendary by someone ages back, and that status has remained ever since.

Three male and two female singers would mean 3x2=6 possible combinations for male-female duets. Strangely enough, I've heard only one duet between Mukesh and Asha Bhosle, despite countless masterpieces for the other combinations. It's just a coincidence that the song also turns out to be one of the best songs I've ever heard.

Songs, however good, don't usually keep me mesmerised and vaguely silent throughout. This one is strangely an exception. I've never able to fathom exactly why the song has an effect to this extent on me.

Mukesh has been splendid in the song, even by his lofty standards. The song reflects hope, and his voice has been incredible in reflecting this. However deep in the dumps I may be, his voice here never fails to send that desperately needed light of hope in me. Listen especially to the part jis subah ki khatir jug jug se hum sab mar markar jeete hain, and you'd probably know what I mean.

You cannot ignore Asha either. She has been amazing in her support role as well. Her role in the song has been minimal in duration, but certainly not negligible in impact. Her contribution towards making this song immortal cannot be ignored.

Khayyam, too, has been quite phenomenal here. Not only has he conjured a tune to go perfectly with the mood of the song, he has allowed the singer complete control over the songs, making minimal use of musical instruments.

But, honestly, the person who stole the show was indeed Sahir Ludhianvi. Definitely my most favourite pre-Gulzar lyricist, Sahir is at his magical best here. It's a mood entirely different from his masterpieces in Pyaasa: in a world ready to accept everything as fate and refusing to dream of being a better place to live, Sahir has somehow able to infuse hope in every single line of the song. You may be dead, you may be buried, but you shall have to wake up to his brilliance here. You just have to - not responding to his lyrics is simply not an option here.

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We all crave for that elusive dawn, don't we? I know that dawn shall never arrive, it shall never happen - but we can always dream, correct? Dawns never materialise in reality, after all.

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PS: If you really want to know why dawns always remain elusive to us, scroll down a bit, below the video.

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Well, as you must have guessed... dawn ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin bhi hai.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The keypad layout conspiracy

Earlier today I was installing a Dell Inspiron Zino HD, and I was marvelled at the sleekness of the portable CPU. As I plugged in the keyboard to the USB slot, I noticed my cellphone lying to the right of the keyboard. And then, all of a sudden, I was shocked. Shell-shocked.

The keypad layouts were not the same. Top to bottom, the rows of the cellphone read 1 2 3, 4 5 6, 7 8 9, 0 on the keypad; the keyboard read 7 8 9, 4 5 6, 1 2 3, a big 0 (ignoring the * and the # on the cellphone, and the . on the keyboard).

WHY? Why would they not be the same? What kind of a joke is this supposed to be?

What made them think that it would be easier for people who use both to use different layouts? Is this some kind of worldwide conspiracy to create a hindrance for users? I mean, controlled sadism is fine, but shouldn't there be a minimum sense of purpose to it? I wonder whose idea was it to hire a bunch of vandals whose designs have led to people having to adjust their fingers whenever they shifted from one keypad to another for years, and for millennia to come. This seems a conspiracy as brutal as the one that was planned at the International Electricians' Conference centuries back, where it was decided that every geographic zone shall have plug points with different-looking sockets, and they shall never be the same, however more people tend to travel across the world.

Monday, August 9, 2010

ময়ূরমহল

সেদিন গান শুনছিলাম, নানারকম। প্রথমে এইটা, কিশোরকুমারের:
আমার মনের এই ময়ূরমহলে
এস, আজ প্রেমের আতর ঢেলে দাও...
সে নাহয় ঢাললাম, কিন্তু এই ময়ূরমহল ব্যাপারটা কি? একটা আলাদা মহল, যেখানে ময়ূরেরা ছুটে বেড়ায়, আর ফুর্তি জাগলে পেখম মেলে নাচে? নাকি ময়ূরের আকৃতিবিশিষ্ট মহল? কনসেপ্টটা কি? "মনের ময়ূরমহল" মানে কি মনের একটা বেশ ঘ্যাম অংশ, যেখানে প্রেমের আতর জাতীয় জিনিস পেলে জীবনের মানেটাই বদলে যায়?

যাইহোক্‌, শাফ্‌ল্‌ করে শুনছিলাম: খানিকক্ষণ পর এল মান্না দের
আমার ভালবাসার রাজপ্রাসাদে
নিশুতি রাত গুমরে কাঁদে
মনের ময়ূর মরেছে ঐ ময়ূরমহলে
দেখি, মুকুটটা তো পড়ে আছে, রাজাই শুধু নেই।
রাজা-ছাড়া মুকুট বেশ বাজে ব্যাপার, মনের ময়ূর (যদি তার মানে ঠিকই বুঝে থাকি) মরে যাওয়া আরও বাজে। কিন্তু... আবার, আবার সেই ময়ূরমহল? আবার? কি এই জায়গা, কি তার রহস্য? ময়ূর মারা যায়, তার মানে কি এটা আসলে ময়ূরদের সমাধিস্থল, যেখানে নাচের কেরিয়ার শেষ করে নানান্‌ পেনশনভোগী ময়ূর এসে জীবনের শেষ কটা দিন কাটায়?

জেদ চেপে গেল, মানে বুঝেই ছাড়ব। ইন্টারনেটে নানারকম ঘাঁটাঘাঁটি করে জানলাম:
  • আমাদের মাননীয়া রেলমন্ত্রী মহারাজা এক্সপ্রেস নামক বিলাসবহুল ট্রেন চালু করেছেন। কলকাতা থেকে দিল্লি যায়, পাঁচতারা হোটেলের মত, আর ১৫টা কম্পার্টমেন্টের নাম রংমহল, মোতিমহল ইত্যাদি - আর এই ইত্যাদির অন্যতম হল ময়ূরমহল। রেলমন্ত্রী নিশ্চয়ই মানে জানেন, কিন্তু তিনি বিশেষ উৎসাহী নন জ্ঞানপিপাসু জনসাধারণকে জানাতে।
  • বর্ধমান জেলায় ময়ূরমহল নামক শহর আছে, স্টেশনও।
  • ব্যাণ্ডেলের কাছে রাজহাট থেকে চার কিলোমিটার দূরে ময়ূরমহল নামক পার্ক আছে।
  • দিল্লির লাজপত নগরে ময়ূরমহল নামক রেস্তোরাঁর বিরিয়ানি বেশ বিখ্যাত।
  • মুম্বইয়ে ময়ূরমহল মাল্টিপার্পাস নামক স্কুল আছে।
  • রাজস্থানের কেসরওলি শহরের হিল ফোর্টে যে ঘরগুলো ভাড়া দেওয়া হয়, তার একটার নাম ময়ূরমহল।
  • এমনকি মেরিল্যাণ্ডের কলেজ পার্ক শহরেও ময়ূরমহল নামক রেস্তোরাঁ আছে।
এত লোক, এবং নিশ্চিতভাবে আরও বেশি জনগণ মানেটা জানে। কিন্তু কী, কী, কী সেই মানে?

Pressure cooker

They kept on saying jo biwi se kare pyaar, woh Prestige se kaise karen inkaar? My father, of course, never had a point to prove in their marriage, and hence we had a Hawkins, and subsequently many more. To be honest I cannot remember a time when we did not own a pressure cooker.

From a very young age the pressure cooker has always intrigued me. It took me a long time to figure out how to open (or close) the lid of one, and if you want a candid answer, I'm still not 100% confident of achieving it with ease. The other aspects that really attracted me to the Hawkins were its uncouth rubber band along the rim of the lid, and the small head-like metallic thing that came off when pulled.

The pressure cooker was, in more ways than one, an overwhelming experience. Nothing in this world can possibly hasten the process and murder the end-product of cooking to such a significant extent the way a pressure cooker has done. It cannot be a coincidence that both saas-bahu serials and eating out are gaining popularity over time - we now have more time in our hands and crappy food on our tables.

Apart from such controversial issues, a curious feature of the pressure cooker has been its whistles. We had a kitchen well-isolated from the residential segment of the house, and I clearly remember myself, standing open-mouthed at the kitchen door, waiting for that whistle to happen.

***

A lot of my friends went for a PhD in the USA. A lot. The usual process was the same: sit for a GRE, then a TOEFL, get recommendations, apply to all sorts of universities, get your tickets, get a pressure cooker, pack your bags and leave.

Hang on, get a pressure cooker? Why on earth?

They don't have them in the USA, apparently.

WHAT? WHY?

No idea.

This incredible fact about pressure cookers fascinated me. The Americans, from what we've known, believe in speed a lot more than we do, isn't it? Then why this baffling reluctance on using pressure cookers?

***

Then I realised that they possibly don't believe in the concept of increasing pressure to achieve quicker, low-quality results. They let everything be. Just like that. Hence no pressure cookers. And no necessity for films like 3 Idiots, either.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Double standards

Prasar Bharati and its censor board have always baffled me. Throughout my childhood they had made me watch one single channel, my summer vacation afternoons meandering into monotonous drones on the increase of jute plantation in Orissa or equivalent in the past financial year by some bespectacled professor on some programme that had received UGC grants, and whenever the Friday night movie was shown on air, the most awaited scenes were found to be mercilessly severed, thereby making the viewing pointless.

Now, not only have they allowed MTV and FTV and whatever-alphabet-TV, but they've also been broadcasting international cricket matches that have umpires with names like Rod Tucker, never putting a ban on channels showing his name on an electronic display or instructing them to beep when his name is being uttered on air (a tough ask, considering that it's live).

Hypocrites.

Bob Christo

For a long period of time I was the impression that Bollywood (at that age cinema and Bollywood were synonymous to me) that heroes and villains were, respectively, good and bad people in real lives. It took me a lot to recover when I heard for the first time that Pran was one of the most generous donors as far as charitable and other missions are concerned, and even much later, when Sanjay Dutt got arrested for having illegal weapons at his place.

In short, I was under the impression that some men, good in real lives, always play roles of good characters. Others, not that respectable morally, always play evil ones.

Then, as I started watching old movies on Doordarshan the myth crushed considerably. Gabbar Singh was actually the second hero in Yaarana; Shaakaal was actually a hero or heroine's father, usually a retired colonel, almost always prone to heart attacks; and the Subedar from Mirch Masala (with a subsequently matched evil performance in Sarfarosh) was actually not a bad guy after all.

The biggest heartbreak came when Mogambo, THE Mogambo started playing hyperactive, yet honest, hard-working elderly men in films like GardishPardes and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. What a shame, I thought, when he brought himself down to a comedian in Chachi 420... wasn't there a single person who remained loyal to the evil and kept on raping the hero's sister, take on a hero in a godown with brittle balcony railings and huge jars containing mysterious blue liquids and get bashed in the end, film after film? Why this sudden frenzy of playing the good?

There was one man, though, who kept strong through all the nonsense. Film after film he came, almost always played a drug-dealer or gold-smuggler of foreign origin (though I've seen him play a weird henchman who entered the scene after the goons of the lowest rank got flattened; uttered a lot of sounds before attacking but go down pretty easily). He was never allured by the sissy side of Bollywood - the Alok Naths and Reema Lagoos and their children who always seemed to stay together with their parents and in-laws and did puja every morning in a massive room with their father ringing the bell. He preferred to stick to massive gang conferences, usually headed by Amrish Puri in a spectacular room and featuring Tej Sapru, Dan Dhanoa, Sudhir and other stalwarts; or to being the star attraction of superhit songs like hawa hawaii; or to dark nights at ports anxiously awaiting sirens of police cars; or those mysterious godowns where heroines are tied to two pillars, one hand fixed with a white rope to each.

Bob Christo was the most loyal actor of the era. He was more evil than Alok Nath was good, and that is saying something. Supremely bald, muscles rippling all over a well-toned physique, Christo towered over other baddies of the industry in terms in terms of sheer number of movies he had played the evil. Even Tej Sapru played Jyothika's brother in Doli Sajaa ke Rakhna; even Sudhir stooped to being a police inspector in Raja Babu, Ikke pe Ikka and Raja and even the police commissioner in Ekka Raja Rani. But our man didn't budge. He wasn't even let down by the fact that Tom Alter's roles as a foreigner in Bollywood movies usually exceeded his - after all, Tom Alter often played the forgiving bishop or the helpful doctor, and there was nothing great about that.

But then I saw Gupt; he actually helped Bobby Deol to escape from jail, and got tracked and killed by Om Puri, the supercop. I was confused: did he play a good man, because he had helped the hero escape, or did he play the evil, given that he had helped a convict escape? I gave him the benefit of doubt - surely Bob Christo couldn't play the good? Surely it was way, way beneath him?

Then came Hum Tum pe Marte Hain, the only movie known to me that has dared to bring Govinda and Dimple Kapadia under the same credit roll. He actually played Urmila Matondkar's friend's uncle, an apparently honest, decent, very likeable man who had no role whatsoever in the movie other than travelling in a train. No guns, no daggers, no gold, no drugs, no nightclubs, no godowns, no ports, no molestations, no nothing - as ordinary as they've made them - why did they need Bob for this? Couldn't they have used someone with less panache, and kept his evil track record unblemished? But no, they won't - they did manage to lure him into doing something unthinkable.

Unknowingly, they also took away a part of my childhood that day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reached safely

More than two decades back my father was transferred to a remote colliery called Umrer, about a couple of hours' drive from Nagpur. The three of us were supposed to join him by Geetanjali Express during our Pooja vacations. Forced by my grandfather to leave home approximately five hours before the scheduled departure time (and that was one of his more lenient days) with meticulously packed suitcases, which we kept on counting and ended up with different results every time when we waited for our entire batallion of relatives under the timeless boro ghori at Howrah Station.

Yes, we did survive that endless wait, with everyone asking us not to land on platforms or to take food from strangers. Funnily, Bollywood has made me see people miss trains while being at the bathrooms on platforms (I've never understood why people do that, actually, given that every compartment has four bathrooms, however filthy).

This story is not about trains, though. It is about what happened immediately after we reached Nagpur. My father was there, waiting. He received us, and together, escorted by a coolie, with marched to the nearest post-office and sent a telegram to my grandfather: REACHED SAFELY.

We didn't have a lot of options other than reaching safely: they had all seen us off at the station; the train didn't have an accident; it had reached on time; there was nothing on the newspapers about a train robbery. But still, the telegram had to be sent.

The telegrams have hence converted to phone calls (not a feasible option in those days; imagine waiting for hours after booking a trunk call, escorted by a coolie and luggages of all shapes and sizes) and emails with passage of time and advancement in technology; train accidents have given way to crashes, robberies to hijacks, staying back at platforms to missing a connecting flight.

But the summary remains the same: REACHED SAFELY, and shall continue to do so as long as my relatives exist; and we exist; and our children; and theirs.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A strange week

Let's call the last week of July, 2010 AD the official WTF week. Well, why not?

First, Maharashtra plays New Zealand at Darwin for a three-match series.

Next, Diego Forlan visits Kolkata a couple of weeks after being the player of the tournament in the Fifa World Cup.

When all this were happening, there was a triangular cricket series between Baroda Cricket Association XI, Kenya Gujarat Cricket Association XI and, hold your breath, Kenya. At least it was held in Nairobi, not Tokyo, so that spared me a WTF.

And now, to crown everything, Mohammad Asif, who has taken 100 wickets in 20 tests, was bashed by as well as got involved in a drug scandal with (how did he manage both with the same person?) Shoaib Akhtar, got banned, made an awesome comeback, and is remembered by Indians mostly for being at the non-striker's end when Misbah hit that stroke off Joginder Sharma, is now scheduled to act in the Malayalam (yes, Malayalam, not Urdu or Pashtun) movie Mazhavillinattamvare (Till the Tip of the Rainbow), directed by the Malayalam poet Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri.

Beat that.

This cannot be anything barring a worldwide conspiracy of sportspeople to make me utter the three-word-phrase I've already mentioned in the first paragraph of this article.

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