Nov 052016
 

mohaps1

Sultan of Delhi by Arnab Ray, Aka the Great Bong, is a racy and gripping read about a boy who starts with nothing, and rises all the way to the top of his game.

The story starts with a today, and keeps going back and forth to multiple yesterdays – and, most of these yesterdays are a part and parcel of the history of the sub continent. And, in charting the story of the main character around the historical moments – Partition, the creation of Bangladesh, Emergency, the story becomes as much a story of the changing face of India post independence, as it is of Arjun Bhatia

The story is that of Arjun Bhatia, one of the millions who came across to Delhi from Western Punjab in 1947 – with nothing but a bit of gold in his pocket and the burning desire never ever to be helpless again. Arjun, in this period has not yet hit his teens, but has to grow up fast to survive. He has to be parent to his father – who is in deep shock after the events of the partition that led to his wife and other sons being killed (Arjun’s mother and brothers). As Arjun tells his father, during a meltdown

 It’s not that I don’t love you, daddy, it’s that I don’t respect you. It’s just that I don’t respect your opinions. Because I don’t respect fools. Fools are the most dangerous people in the world. They get others killed.

As Arjun makes a life in Delhi, the story charts his growth from a mechanic to a gun runner, and a gun runner to a legit businessman, who makes his way in the corridors of power. Arjun is relentless in his rise to the top. His marriage of convenience – to inherit a going concern, that later settles into companionship – is as important to him; as the love of his life Nayantara – the widow of a man he kills. He is meticulous in his plotting his path ascension – a ruthless drive that is reminiscent of Michael Corleone – the two fold desire to protect your family, and be at the top.  It is a dangerous game, and Arjun makes his fair share of enemies. In one of the best face offs in the book (and there are a few), Arjun has a line, that possibly not just defines him and his way of doing business, but also the essential tussle in Delhi – between the English speaking ‘elite’ and the Hindi speaking ‘new elite’.

Yeh madarchod-behenchod ka sheher hai, angrezi gaali se kisko darwayenge?

While it is a story of Arjun and his rise to being the Sultan of Delhi, it is also the story of the way business is conducted in modern India. It is also the story of families and how they define you. The son who judged his father as a fool, is now judging his sons as the same. You can sense his slight impatience at how long it takes for the next generation to get a point, that he has known instinctively.

The book is racy, the characters are real. They speak real. They sound real. You know about people like them. And, yet it is a story that is unique in it’s ambition. As Ray recounts the story of Arjun Bhatia over a 60 year period, the non linear narrative of jumping between time frames – each revealing a little more about Arjun – keeps you hooked.  The flashbacks move the story forward, they aren’t just there for the sake of ideal curiosity. The use of hindi is natural, as is the use of English. And, that is one of the things I really enjoyed about the Sultan of Delhi, is the way it flowed.

I also give full compliments to whoever edited this – because if i had material that spanned 60 years, i would not be able to write such a tight book.

I am hoping there is a sequel. I want to know what happens with the characters, next 🙂

Oct 232016
 

…. but, it is one of the sharpest pieces of writing on what ails America, and the Trump phenomenon. Such precision is devastating.

If the prospect of a female President represents a departure in the history of American politics, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, the real-estate mogul and Republican nominee, does, too—a chilling one. He is manifestly unqualified and unfit for office. Trained in the arts of real-estate promotion and reality television, he exhibits scant interest in or familiarity with policy. He favors conspiracy theory and fantasy, deriving his knowledge from the darker recesses of the Internet and “the shows.” He has never held office or otherwise served his country, never acceded to the authority of competing visions and democratic resolutions.

If you thought that  being discriminatory, bigoted, and dogmatic, weren’t bad enough as characteristics, there is more …

It is not merely narcissism that leads him to speak about grabbing women’s genitals or to endorse the “Lock Her Up!” chants directed at his opponent. It is his temperamental authoritarianism—a trait echoed in his admiration of Vladimir Putin. …

The consistencies of Trump’s character are matched by the inconsistencies of his policy positions. Every politician is allowed to change his or her mind, but Trump abuses the privilege. His reversals on issues as fundamental as first-strike nuclear policy and our obligations to nato reflect not so much a thought process as the blunderings of ignorance.

I actually thought, when i read about Trump’s candidacy, that it must have been an evolved joke. And, when i realised it was not (a joke) , i began paying a bit more attention to what was going on. It is that kind of horrific fascination when you are about to see a terrible car accident. the conspiracy theorist part of me wonders if Bill Clinton planted the seed of running for presidency in this man’s head, the many times that they played golf.  If so, it would be two birds with one stone (maybe even 3) = Hilary as President, a devastated Republican Party, and Democrats in Congress.

 The combination of free-form opportunism, heroic self-regard, blithe contempt for expertise, and an airy sense of infallibility has contributed to Trump’s profound estrangement from the truth. He said that he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the attacks of 9/11. When he was told that this never happened, he repeated the claim, mocked the disabled reporter who exposed it—a grotesque antic captured on video—and then denied having done so. He maintained that he saw a picture of Ted Cruz’s father “having breakfast with Lee Harvey Oswald”; no such picture exists. He boasted of conversations with Putin that never occurred; he said that Putin had not invaded Ukraine. He described climate change as a Chinese-perpetrated hoax, then said that he hadn’t. Day and night, Trump assembles and distributes these murky innuendos and outright lies through his Twitter account.

But, in the United States, as elsewhere, there is a backlash from, what i call, the “formerly privileged’ .  People who have been the backbone of the formerly left wing parties. Union members, workers, people who are seeing their futures rapidly diminishing with the onslaught of outsourcing of work to other countries, as well as the influx of cheaper labour into their own lands. But this is not just about jobs. It is about other things to. It is about equality – it is the resentment that some have about those who were servants and chattel, who can deal with them on equal basis. We are seeing this across the world.

We are in the midst of a people’s revolt, a great debate concerning income inequality, the “hollowing” of the middle, globalization’s winners and losers. If the tribune whom the voters of the Republican Party have chosen is a false one, we cannot dismiss the message because we deplore the messenger. The white working-class voters who form the core of Trump’s support—and who were once a Democratic constituency—should not have their anxieties and suffering written off. Their struggle with economic abandonment and an incomplete health-care system demands airing, understanding, and political solutions.

Oh, and they talk about Hilary Clinton too.

Read the full piece, here 

Oct 112016
 

Conde Nast Traveller - Priyanka Chopra

 

It is deliciously funny. Someone, i am guessing, in the management said “we need to do something about refugees. Something classy, but shows we care. But, how do you do this without featuring  poor, ugly, people.  ” (i kid you not, this is a phrase i have heard used in media houses. We don’t want no poor, ugly, people on our shows/papers/magazines) .

Someone else said, how about Priyanka Chopra taking up the cause of refugees, immigrants, and the page 3 jet set – by wearing a men’s banyan (or whatever the posh name for it is).

Someone else said “Let us do it”. A voice piped up “but, that is Nike”.

Conde Nast Traveller, put up an explanation this morning, that is just as funny as the original cover (if not funnier)

It’s time we demand better, and stand against the building of walls, literal and otherwise. We must demand a world free of racism and bigotry and prejudice, so that we—and generations after us—may enjoy all the abundance that travel offers, the beauty of a world that is open and rich and diverse in its people and cultures and geographies. And we must, in the midst of our many differences, find and celebrate our commonalities, our oneness. We must recognise that we are all on a journey. Whether we are moving across oceans or just a few kilometres, or in our mind’s eye, into a completely different world, whether we are doing so due to free will or circumstance—we are all travellers.

And this is why Priyanka Chopra—a star at home and abroad, who has experienced firsthand the opportunities that travel offers—is the perfect ambassador. It’s not about her being a refugee or immigrant or outsider; it’s about her, like us, recognising the power of travel, and joining us in asking everyone to do better for each other. 

We can start this journey by ensuring that gated communities, where most of Conde Nast Traveller audience lives, welcome the poor, hungry and dispossessed (within their own city and country) into their limits. I am looking forward to Conde Nast’s support on this campaign 🙂

Oct 092016
 

Bhimsen Joshi

A lovely little documentary (about an hour), on Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, by Gulzar.

One lovely bit, where Panditji says, just call me Bhimsen. Mujhe Pandit se nafrat hai, aaj koi bhi pandit ban jaata hai. He is referring to the tradition, where a master singer /musician earned the title Panditji (if Hindu) or Ustad (if Muslims). That tradition had been diluted, when new comers are given the title almost after the first concert.

Another lovely moment in the documentary, refers to his jugalbandi with Manna De, in ketaki gulab juhi. Both men, shot at different times and spaces, recollect. And, Gulzar puts together a great edit (including them singing this together in differnet spaces). Bhimsen Joshi ends the piece by saying — Manna de ne mujhe hara diya (Manna De defeated me).

Favorite ragas: Todi (in the morning) , Multani in the afternoon. Yaman /Darbari/Puriya at night. No wonder these are my favourites too, i ended up hearing him sing his best ragas, at his best – all through the time i have been listening to music.

And, the origins of the Kirana Gharana – near Gurgaon, the village where Karna settled . It denotes purpose, do or die, he says. and, it shows in his journey. His favourite students – lots of names, he says with a smile, but only three who can sing. Featured is a little clip with him singing Todi – langarka kariya jin maaro – with a student (a young Anand Bhate). Watch out for him, he says. And, Anand Bhate is one of my favorite new singers. He sang extensively for the Marathi Film Balgandharva 

And, my favorite piece – when do you figure which song you will perform? when i get the tanpura in my hand.

If you have an hour to spare, watch it.

 

For those interested, My Bhimsen Joshi playlist on youtube.

Oct 022016
 

When I was growing up, I was often told, by my father’s friends – India and Pakistan, we are brothers. we have the same language, culture, etc etc etc.  This was when we lived in Delhi. i later realised that the fact that the dominant culture in Delhi was Punjabi, and there was a yearning for the age gone by. As i grew older, and began understanding the concept of diversity, i began understanding only one thing – that while there are some Indians who are like the Pakistanis – primarily Sindhis and Punjabis – most of us are not.

As I got even older, i understood more. As a student in England, i had a Pakistani classmate, who was from Karachi. He told me that he was a Mohajir and that his family supported this party called MQM. That they were fighting for Mohajir rights. Mohajir was a term used to describe immigrants from India. And, i found that kind of odd- that Mohajirs would be discriminated against- given that Pakistan was set up as a Muslim homeland. Then came other surprises. This was an era before cell phones. Even land lines in India were sparse. And i would call up on a given day to India – to my dad’s office to chat. or he would call me. All my classmates knew that habit. That day, dad’s office was shut for Muharram . My Pakistani classmate did not know what Muharram was. I was kind of surprised, because he was a Muslim, and this was a Muslim religious day. Which is when I also figured that all Muslims do not live together in harmony. And, there are some countries in which Shias are discriminated against. From my Bangladeshi neighbours and classmates, i learned first hand accounts of the massacre in Dacca before the 1971 war. And it was based less on religion, and more on the ethnicity, linguistics, and just the desire to kill the ‘other’ – you can define ‘other’ whichever way you want, it is just someone who is not like you.

And, then the 1993 bomb blasts took place in India. Planned in Pakistan. Executed in Mumbai. The start of a long list of terror attacks, against civilians in India. It continues till today.\3345244882_391ccd20d7_z

The overlapping era, across the world, was the era of sanctions against South Africa for practising apartheid. The best cricket players, the best actors, the best rugby players, never played internationally because their government was bigoted, and their system perpetuated it. I never understood why Pakistan never faced sanctions. What it has done since inception has been on par with what Nazi Germany perpetuated. Yet, it got away free.

Pakistan has had some of the best publicity and public relations management in the history of nations.It got away, literally, with murder, rape and massacres. Even when it committed  genocide in East Pakistan, there were no sanctions. I have heard first hand accounts of the genocide, and, much of what we read  has been so sanitised, that people who speak about it come across as nutcases. The men who planned it, those who implemented it, walked away scot free. The actions against the Bengali speaking population of East Pakistan was just something that they got caught doing. There is a list of things that are so under the radar, they rarely get mentioned. Genocide against every conceivable minority possible – Shia Muslims, Ahmedias , Christians, Hindus, the Baloch People, Hazarasjust to mention a few. These are stories i routinely come across when i trawl the interwebs for reading. There are a lot more i never come across, because a) they aren’t on the internet, b) they are on the internet but i don’t read the language. Pakistan has gotten away with sheer murder, time and time again. And, the naive west, led by the USA, has fallen time and time again for a pack of lies, told by a bunch of sociopaths, who claim to be the last defence against Islamist terror. This is like the west paying the mother lode of terror to get it to fight terror.

I always wondered why South Africa faced sanctions, and Pakistan did not. As i got even older i got the answer to it. The Afrikaners, were terrible on television. They looked arrogant, didn’t look terribly telegenic, spoke like Nazis, and came across as terribly racist. On the other hand, Pakistan had invested in people who are suave, sophisticated, look telegenic and sounded like they were possibly your best friends. If you take away all your biases against Pakistan, and listen to their generals and bureaucrats on television. If you heard them day after day, you will be convinced that they are the victims of circumstance. That India is the aggressor. That they are the last defence against terror. Someone as canny as Nixon was taken in by the sophistication

I have often written about why I never understood successive Governments of India falling for the Pakistani line of ‘let us be friends’ – maybe, as a woman i believe that before friendship, there needs to be trust. there needs to be that sense of security. And, i have often wondered, why we don’t stop trading, transacting, communicating. The nostalgia of one Indian state, cannot become the cross for the rest of India to bear.

Last week, before the surgical strikes against terror camps on the other side of the LoC (btw – India did not violate Pakistan’s territorial rights, it walked into a part of India illegally occupied by Pakistan) , and after the Uri attacks, there was this entire clamour about banning Pakistani actors on film. I have no views on this, except that why would you hire outsiders, to do jobs that locals can do. But, Bollywood has always been kind of woolly headed about Pakistan. It stems from the fact that too many people from Bollywood come from Punjab. And most Punjabis are, understandably, nostalgic about undivided Punjab. As a south indian brought up in Maharashtra, this entire ‘we are one people’ ‘we have the same language and culture and food’ never made sense, because we didn’t. But, this is less about the myopia and nostalgia of Bollywood, and more about the fact that on a daily basis, representatives of the Pakistani establishment are entering your homes, via your TV sets, to give you their side of the story. I ran a poll on this, on twitter, to gauge the response of others. A

Frankly, i am less bothered about actors, than i am by the Pakistani establishment. I also, do not expect actors, and cricketers, and other Pakistani civilians working in India, or for Indian companies, to take a stand against their government for one simple reason. This is a government without conscience. All those links that i have provided above, tells you the ruthlessness with which they kill the ‘other’. If i were from such a state, i would be terrified of the repercussions on my family and friends. On my loved ones. The state of Pakistan is capable of just about anything.  I will leave you with the death of the qawaal Ajmad Sabri. He was killed for being a Sufi. Because being sufi is considered blasphemy. And, the government marked him for death by pinning the blasphemy label on him.

 

While i understand the anger that we all have against Pakistani infiltration, it’s support of terror and the way it lies, i also understand that India is dealing with a Pakistani system where no one is in control. Not the Government, not the Military, not the terrorists. The competition to take control, is what is spilling over to the rest of the world. While the rest of the civilised world competes on achievements, this lot competes on bloodshed. I wouldn’t expect the Pakistani actors in India to speak out against the terror attacks in Uri, they are probably too terrified. If i were in their place, i would be terrified too.  What i do expect, however, is for Indian channels to stop getting Pakistani establishment on TV news shows to defend Pakistan. I was appalled to see a tweet from a leading news anchor about the presence of General Musharraf on their channel. All I could think of was the Batra family. Musharraf has been leading the charge against India since the time he duped the then PM Vajpayee, and betrayed the concept of friendship and peace. Remember Kargil?

In human relationships as with States, some things stay common – without trust and respect, there can be no friendship. no love. there may be lust, but that is temporary. There could be memories, but those are yesterday. the question is always about today – do we trust them ? do we respect them? Have we done all that we can for either — In my opinion, we have. It hasn’t worked. Now it is time to move on. It is time to shred the nostalgia. the fact that a few of us have family memories of Lahore and Karachi. That we have memories of food, and festivals. It is completely ok, to forget the past, rinse it out of memories, and move on.  It is ok not to have any relations with Pakistan – not as friends, not as enemies. we can’t change our neighbourhood, nor get our neighbour to move. But, we can learn not to want being liked by them.