Saturday, September 29, 2012

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

I won't call this one a review. I dare not delude myself with the notion that I possess the slightest ability to review P.G. Wodehouse's delightful oeuvre. Hence, I'll simply share my thoughts.

The names say it all. I mean, P.G. Wodehouse and his evergreen creation - the incomparable Jeeves. There can be no improvement on such perfection, charm and fine humour. Wodehouse-ism camouflaged as Jeeves-ism rules.

Carry on, Jeeves is considered as a part of the Jeeves canon and is a collection of ten short stories by that word-magician par excellence, also known as P. G. Wodehouse. It was first published in the United Kingdom on 9 October 1925 (by Herbert Jenkins, London), and then in the United States on October 7, 1927 (by George H. Doran, New York). Many of the stories had previously appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and some were rewritten versions of stories in the collection My Man Jeeves (1919).

The ten stories are: 1. Jeeves Takes Charge. 2. The Artistic Career of Corky. 3. Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest. 4. Jeeves and the Hard-boiled Egg. 5. The Aunt and the Sluggard. 6. The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy. 7. Without the Option. 8. Fixing It for Freddie. 9. Clustering Round Young Bingo and 10. Bertie Changes His Mind.

The first story in the book, "Jeeves Takes Charge" is where we are introduced to the inimitable Jeeves, the "gentleman's personal gentleman" who "shimmers" and "oozes" in and out of rooms. Jeeves' vastly superior intellect and ample talents as a troubleshooter is regularly pressed into service to help his employer, the young, rich, idle Bertie Wooster (actually: Bertram Wooster) - to get "out of the boullion," in which he has a habit of landing himself into, with unfailing regularity.

Jeeves arrives one fine morning (rather, quietly enters young Bertie's life) as a replacement for the young aristocrat's previous, thieving valet.

... And soon, by some sheer magic, Jeeves has everything running smoothly - even Bertie himself! Bertie no longer has to worry about what colour of tie or coat or make of shirt suits him or which type of shoes he must slide his feet into. And (methinks) all this would have undoubtedly culminated in delaying the appearance of gray in his crowning glory.  :-)

As the stories roll along, we find Jeeves rescuing him from sundry relatives and fastidious acquaintances, and on more than one occasion even manages to successfully pull him back from the waiting jaws of some or the other 'lioness' (for whose imaginary charms Bertie has momentarily succumbed to). And what's more, Jeeves does not even mind extending his considerable talents as a "lifesaver" to Bertie's friends, and so, effortlessly bails them out of whatever "rather bally" situation they find themselves in from time to time.

Now, this is what I call the priceless Jeeves touch, and it is far more potent (and worthwhile) than the much-coveted, materialistic Midas touch.

In this book, Bertie narrates the stories (in the first person) in his own inimitable style, except for the final one - "Bertie Changes His Mind," which employs Jeeves as the narrator. And it is here that Bertie scores over Jeeves; and this is undoubtedly the young Wooster's greatest achievement in life.

Jeeves' dry style is somewhat jarring to the reader otherwise accustomed to Bertie's signature wit. It may, therefore, stand out in this collection (not outstanding, mind you). In fact, I can safely conclude that the final story (Bertie Changes His Mind) may not even go down well with the most committed of P.G. Wodehouse-converts, especially after they have had a taste of Bertie's brand of "Wooster Sauce" - his uniquely humourous style of narration.

Jeeves is best written about than writing or narrating (anything for that matter). He is an enigma, and his quiet efficient style holds our attention, nay captivates us. The role of a narrator takes away his shine, and this is simply not done; since, you see, Jeeves was always right (!!) ... and so his aura couldn't diminish.

My two pence worth: Carry On, Jeeves is a quick read; it will delight everyone who loves to laugh. And what's more, you'll never tire of taking this 254-paged laid-back, fun-filled sojourn again and again. [Actually, there are 273 pages, but "Bertie Changes His Mind" takes up the remaining 19 pages, as you may have rightly guessed by now.]

The book jacket cover is really nice: cherry red with a dash of fluorescent green; even the fonts used gel very well with the overall look and feel of the book. It's classy.

We find young Bertie sitting in a chair, a thick book on his knees, and half his face buried in his right palm. He is clearly worried and at his wits end, perhaps trying to figure out a way of installing an invisible firewall between himself and the book, while also nursing a raging hangover simultaneously. Jeeves, carrying a tray with a glass of "Worcester Sauce" (I presume) hovers over him - like a shadow. This gives the impression that Jeeves is the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient Genie to Wooster's befuddled Aladdin. Ingenious!

However, I have a confession to make. The incorrigible book-lover in me has (until now, that is) somehow managed to escape all those pages that contained Jeeves. And I am not even a Wooster!! Meaning: I'm no English aristocrat - by any stretch of imagination. And I have none of the trappings that the young carefree Wooster is happily encumbered with, namely laziness.

This is because as a Bengali, I simply cannot be lazy. Though (at times) I can very much be lajee. But then, being lajee is completely different from being lazy. And if you were to ever make the galti se mistake of calling me 'lazy,' I'd simply stamp my feet and say, 'mummy I won't play.'

Matter finished! That's roshogolla diplomacy for you. Bheree pheeshy :-)

[Aside: I now must grapple with the important issue of whether to write to the Guinness World Records, urging them to include my name in their hallowed list of achievers. After all, I have managed to accomplish that rare and stupendous feat of not having read P.G. Wodehouse/Jeeves - until so late in life! What say you?!]

Umm, well, since I do not have the benefit of that miraculous Jeeves-patented "Worcester Sauce," I must make do with mugs of straang, piping-hot south Indian filter kaapi instead - in order to clear the cobwebs of my mind. This is because, despite its best efforts, Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chili Sauce cannot give me the required ketchup call. As for the eggs, a couple of them would make for a pair of perfect bull's eye - sunny side up, which then in partnership with a couple of nicely toasted bread, would make for a tasty and healthy breakfast. But all this still won't quite make me a Wooster, you know. But am I complaining? No, absolutely not! I'm more than happy reading about him.

As for the red pepper (from Jeeves' "Worcester Sauce"), we may want to periodically gift them to our benign red neighbour - as a mark of our everlasting friendship, which also earned the rite of passage from Bhai-Bhai to Buy-Buy thanks to the strengthening of ties: polka-dotted, baby-pink, checked, et al.

And last but not the least, Jeeves' glorious intellect made Bertie ponder over - whether Jeeves was brought up on a diet of fish. Now, this bit is guaranteed to instantly make the innermost cockles of a Bengali heart rejoice.

So, imagine having Jeeves at the helm of Oaest Bengal-turned-Poschimbongo?!

Or better still, Jeeves in a blue turban?!!

Ki bolen? What say you?

Verdict: Carry On, Jeeves is a delicious hors d'oeuvre that would make for an extremely pleasant breakfast table/bus-cab-taxi-auto-train-air commute/lunchtime/bedtime munching (I mean: reading). If you don't like this book, you obviously are a fan of the Raaz series.

About the author: P.G. Wodehouse is the author of almost a hundred books and the creator of Jeeves, Blandings Castle, Psmith, Ukridge, Uncle Fred and Mr. Mulliner. He was born in 1881 and educated at Dulwich College. After two years with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank he became a full-time writer, contributing to a variety of periodicals. As well as his novels and short stories, he wrote lyrics for musical comedies, and at one stage had five shows running simultaneously on Broadway. At the age of 93, in the New Year's Honours List of 1975, he received a long-overdue Knighthood, only to move on to the afterlife on St Valentine's Day some 45 days later.

He sure was a jolly good fellow. And Bertie was fun!

Details of the book: Carry On, Jeeves/ Author: P.G. Wodehouse/ Publisher: Arrow, an imprint of Random House/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 01/07/2008/ Genre: Classics/ ISBN-10: 978-0-09-951369-8/ ISBN-13: 9780099513698/ Pages: 273/ Price: $19.95)

Picture: The book jacket cover of "Carry On, Jeeves". Courtesy: link.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi

Note: One has to re-discover Krishna and his key. We need to join the dots and solve the many puzzles - ancient and modern, that dot 'The Krishna Key' - so as to figure out the elusive key and emerge slightly more knowledgeable and possibly a wee bit enlightened - in the process.

This one is a cerebral knowledge-hunt, a wondrous jigsaw puzzle and a crossword - that we have never attempted before.

To unlock it, we must invoke Krishna in our mind's eye; Krishna's advice should be our guidance. Remember, that the journey is more important than the destination ... just as our business is with the action only, never with its fruits.

A fairly taut and gripping tale, 'The Krishna Key' does manage to hold your interest until the very end, without much ado. Ashwin Sanghi has impressed yet again, and I am curious to know what his next offering will be about. However, my advice is that one should not read this book as an out-and-out thriller; it is clearly not meant to be that way, do look for the many symbolism and undercurrents though.

The book jacket cover is a clear winner; the shadow of the lock falls on "Krishna" while the light through the door panels gives the lock itself a cloak of suspense. It is intriguing and makes one want to play the guessing game. It conveys a message of its own. What do you think it is?

'The Krishna Key' is in gold-hued letters; Krishna as we all know is "Peetamber" - draped in the colour gold. It is also another name for Shri Vishnu - the preserving or the balancing force behind the cosmos, whose 'avatar' (manifestation) is Shri Krishna. "Peet" is golden-yellow and "amber" is sky. Hence, Peetamber also indicates the brilliant and glittering sky as well as enlightenment (i.e. an illumined mind).

Ashwin Sanghi appears in white, the colour of the serene full moon. Dark blue skies and a glowing moon exude peace and serenity. Shri Krishna is much admired for his radiance, calm and serene disposition even in the face of adversity. He is without ego (ahamkara). One needs to let go of ego, in order to attain illumined knowledge, as depicted by the story of Krishna stealing the clothes of the Gopis and hiding it. It is NOT literal, but allegorical.

The Krishna Key is not a slim volume; it contains 464 pages (excluding the references and acknowledgement bit.) Yet, it is a surprisingly breezy read, one that will greatly appeal to the fiction-loving epicurean, due to its eclectic mix. Come to think of it, this book will appeal to any connoisseur of the printed word. One gets to savour a healthy dose of thrills, history, chase, mind games, a glimpse into our ancient past, rituals, society and clans of yore; Vedic science, architecture, planetary positions, symbolism, sub-plots and a bit of romance, all of which culminates in making it quite a page-turner, while also ensuring that our knowledge travels northward. The romance bit though is a tad underdone and therefore appears somewhat abrupt. Which means, Ashwin is unlikely to pen a full-blown romantic novel anytime soon :-)

'The Krishna Key' begins with a map and a hymn (from the Rig Ved) and runs through 108 chapters in all; each of which is preceded by a paragraph from the Mahabharata, narrated in the first person by Krishna himself. This number, 108, is very significant; both Vishnu and Krishna have 108 names and so does Ma Durga (the manifestation of Shakti, the feminine force behind the cosmos.) However, the number 108 has many more layers, all of which the author explains in a manner that can be easily understood by even a layperson. Hence the overall narrative is not at a frenetic pace.

The Mahabharata as we all know, is a veritable treasure-trove. Apart from its poetic qualities, it is a comprehensive representation of ancient India. Because of its significance, while it is also known as the Fifth Veda, it is at once equivalent to all the Vedas. To my mind, it is also the comprehensive itihasa (history) of the Dvapar Yuga - the 3rd era. It is in fact human history in its entirety. What is not within it is to be found nowhere else. And all that is elsewhere is here. It is timeless. Hence preceding each chapter by a paragraph from the Mahabharata (and that too narrated in the first person by Krishna himself) - is very significant indeed, quite a masterstroke.

We travel along with the cast of characters to the submerged ruins of Dwarka, the sand-washed ruins of Kalibangan (the largest excavation site in Rajasthan), the once-magnificent Somnath, the now placid Kurukshetra, the storied Mathura; then to the even more storied Vrindavan and a beautifully carved temple destroyed by Aurangzeb ... among other places of course. The three-headed seal with motifs of a bull, unicorn and goat engraved in an anticlockwise direction (on the face of the seal) clearly piqued the interest of the history buff in me, especially in light of the Ekashringa (literally: the one-horned) mentioned in the Mahabharata. We get glimpses into some passages from the Harivamsa too; and they unequivocally inform us that land was reclaimed from the ocean in order to construct Dwarka (Dwaravati - the city of many doors.) In ancient texts, even science was conveyed in magical terms. A complex task of engineering - land reclamation - has been described as praying to the ocean to yield twelve yojanas of land !!

Verdict: Frankly, I am amazed at the amount of research that has gone into this book. Sanghi's take on Vishnu and Shiv is ingenious. But I'm very impressed by his explanation of what is now known as the 'Shiv-ling'. Here is a lesson for us all - to observe and not merely see.

As they say, the journey is important, not the destination. And this journey is clearly an enriching one, since as companions one gets to have: the Surya Siddhanta and (the ancient Greek historian and diplomat) Megasthenes' works that talk about Methora, Sourasenoi and Heracles (who, according to Megasthenes, was held in high esteem by the Sourasenoi); Krishna's beloved golden city of Dwarka, the sacred river Sarasvati (part of the saptasindhu and which was very much a living river during Shri Krishna's time), the evolved Sarasvati civilization, the ruins of Mohenjo-daro, the Devas, the Asuras, the Ahuras and Sumeria. The primeval sound AUM and 786, Durga and Ilah, as well as the curiosity-inducing gothic font. A black stone that lies further westward, Agreshwar, Tejo Mahalay and Arjumand Banu Begum alias Mumtaz-ul-Zamani's tomb. The intricately carved doors of Somnath were carried away by Ghazni to be later fixed on his own tomb, who would have guessed why?! The wondrous significance of the numbers 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 18, 894, 1008, 10008 and the sacred symbol "Swastika"; the pentagon and the six-pointed star, jyamiti and geometry; Pythagoras theorem, decimal system, the concept of zero and infinity, and even the binary system - so very common in modern computers now. Vedic mathematics is very fascinating indeed.

Most of us are unaware of the Baudhayana Sulbasutra - a manual of ancient Vedic geometry. And few may have heard of the stepped pyramid - the great flat-topped Mastaba of Djoser - a precursor to later pyramids. So the fact that the Baudhayana Sulbasutra describes in precise detail the building of a Smashaanachitha - a funeral altar; or that the Mastaba of Djoser, built around 2700 BCE, is an inverted Vedic funeral altar down to the very last detail, may come as a proverbial bolt from the blue. But then, one only needs to take a closer look at what is universally known as the Sphinx: a figure with the face of a man and the body of a lion. In short: a lion-man. Now, is the lion a creature of the desert? No. But are we strangers to the concept of the lion-man?  

If you were surprised to learn that the French philosopher Voltaire had vehemently declared, "Pythagoras went to the Ganges to learn geometry," do also remember that a certain Steve Jobs too had been a regular visitor to this great land and spent much time on the banks of this great river - seeking inspiration, by his own admission.

And just in case you are astounded by the remarkable similarity between what J. Robert Oppenheimer ("the father of the atomic bomb") said - after the first such bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, "I am become death, the destroyer of the worlds," and a line from the Srimad Bhagavad Gita that says, "I am become Time to end the world, set on my course to destroy the universe"; please do remember that the great Albert Einstein also paid his obeisance to this timeless treasury of knowledge. So, where do you think he got the idea for his seminal equation?

As we know, the soul (aatman) is energy. And this is what Shri Krishna said about the aatman

'Na jãyate mriyate vã kadãchinnãyam bhootvã bhavitã vã na bhooyaha, 
ajo nityaha shãshvato'yam purãno na hanyate hanyamãne shareere.' 

[Translated: 'the aatma is never born nor does it die. Similarly, it is not re-created to come into existence. Since, the aatma is not born, is eternal and imperishable, it has existed since time eternal and does not die even though the body dies.' - Srimad Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 Verse - 20]

As Arjuna stood in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he was overcome with feelings of weakness and confusion - since he faced the prospect of killing his own kith and kin. Shri Krishna, who was his charioteer in the battlefield, sought to allay his fears by teaching him about the distinction between the physical body (which is impermanent) and the soul or aatman (which is permanent):

'vāsānsi jīrNāni yathā vihāya navāni grihNāti naro.aparāNi.
tathā śarīrāNi vihāya jīrNānyanyāni sanyāti navāni dehī.' 

[Translated: "Just as a human being puts on new garments, casting off old and worn-out ones, the soul similarly takes up residence within new material bodies, giving up the old and infirm ones." - Srimad Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2 Verse - 22]

Now, look at what the "First Law of Thermodynamics" has to say: 'Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.' The First Law of Thermodynamics (Conservation) states that energy is always conserved; it cannot be created or destroyed. In essence, energy can be converted from one form into another.

So? [Yet, there seem to be no respite from THE best fiction of all times - the Aryan Invasion Theory! :-)]

And despite the idol of Shiv in his Nataraj form having been duly installed within the premises of the research centre that recently witnessed much hoopla over the discovery of the elusive G particle, there has been no let up in the various narratives directed at 'idol worship' - which has swamped us for a few centuries now. :D

To my mind, humans, in the Dwapur Yuga and before, would have been very different from the ones in the current Kali Yuga, in all respects - in appearance, height, strength, longevity, calibre and in intellect too. We moderns - enslaved by our arrogance and a linear view of history - have failed to acknowledge all that.

I do not want to accumulate any more bad karma by playing spoilsport. I will not reveal and discuss any more than I have already done. Do get hold of the book and read all you can, but do not forget to simultaneously unlock the doors and windows of your heart, mind and soul. This is not a one-time read and will be amongst Sanghi's best works.

Rating: I am going with a 4/5. The production value of the book is good, editing errors are very few, and I'm sure they will be taken care of in the next print-run. The book jacket cover is very attractive and instantly catches the eye.

My humble two pence worth: It is best that we do not take our ancient texts including the Mahabharata at face value. They are immense repositories of knowledge no doubt, but just as the sacred river Ganga has become heavily polluted over time, can we say with certainty that our ancient texts - a veritable treasure-trove of knowledge (but which has, unfortunately, now come to be labeled as 'scriptures') have escaped a similar fate?

Here's why. I simply cannot believe that a woman like Kunti would 'abandon' her child, 'so as to avoid shame, since Karana was born out of wedlock'.

Kunti had four sons (including Karana) and none of them were sired by Pandu, her supposedly 'lawfully wedded husband'. (In fact, this 'lawfully wedded husband' bit somehow seems like a term that folks who came to this great land on glorified boats used and still do.)

Pandu, though a king, is a minor character. It is Kunti that wields a lot of influence; she is a strategist, negotiator and administrator of the highest order. We have completely overlooked the fact that Vedic marriages were of many types, and Swayamvara was just one of them. Any emotional and physical intimacy between a male and a female has been considered to be as good as a marital union - Gandharva Vivaha. In this form of vivaha, couples marry with mutual consent, even though they may not have the consent/blessings of their families; there are no rituals involved. However, the stress has always been on the consent of the female.

Therefore, undoubtedly, Kunti had four husbands. And so, when modern 'scholars' and their medieval counterparts talk about Pandu being her 'lawfully wedded husband' or address/depict her as a 'widow' (after Pandu's demise) - they cannot be more wrong! Being a 'widow' or virginity for that matter, has never been an issue. Even in the Treta Yuga - the 2nd era (the one preceding Dvapar Yuga) one finds Mandodari (Raavan's wife) marrying Vibhishana, Raavan's younger brother, after Raavan's demise. Therefore, Kunti clearly did not 'abandon' Karana 'for fear of being shamed'. I would like to believe that Karana was perhaps lost or kidnapped and subsequently found by the childless couple, Adhirath and Radha, who then brought him up as their own. [Adhirath was king Santanu's sarathi or charioteer. A "Suta" is one who is the offspring of mixed parentage, more precisely that of a Kshatriya-Brahmin parentage.]

We somehow tend to forget that Maharshi Vedavyas himself was the product of a Gandharva Vivaha - one between the revered Sage, Maharshi Parāśara and a fisherwoman (matsya-kanya) Satyavati. Satyavati later married the kshatriya king of Hastinapura, Maharaja Santanu - on the condition that their son would ascend the throne. Santanu, despite being a king, deferred to Satyavati's wish, while his son and Crown Prince (the Ganga-putra; the future Bheeshma) - Yuvaraja Devavrata - too stepped aside in order to make way for Satyavati and Santanu's sons, Chitrāngad and Vichitravirya.

Shri Krishna is also called 'Giridhari' (literally: he who lifted a hill) and large parts of the population believe that he lifted up a whole mountain on his little finger!! But it is clearly a metaphor - a testimony to his intelligence, perception and planning - even as a young boy, besides alluding to the accomplishment of Herculean tasks. [Here is a minor riddle for you; food for thought, if you may: Heracles and Hercules; Megathenes' Methora, Sourasenoi and Heracles, manu-smriti and manu-script. What do you make of them?]

I could go on and on and on. Moral of the story: It's in our best interest to cleanse our treasure-trove of ancient knowledge as well as our itihasa (history; especially our ancient history) of all the unwanted aspects (including humongous quantities of myth) that has seeped in and crept in over time. Illumined knowledge has been with us always, a gift from our ancients ... yet we refuse to drink from it.

Parting shot: Bhagavan Shri Krishna (who hailed from the kshatriya Chandravanshi or the moon-worshiping Yadava clan) is the celebrated Soldier-Statesman who strove to re-establish dharma - by fighting all forms of adharma (wicked and malicious people, as well as injustice and profanity in all its forms.) He restored order and balance in society, and is therefore regarded as the 8th avatar of Shri Vishnu - the preserving/balancing force behind the cosmos. Bhagavan Shri Ram (the celebrated kshatriya Warrior-Saint of the Suryavanshi or the sun-worshiping Ikshvaku clan) preceded him as the 7th avatar. The 9th avatar of Shri Vishnu, the one that after-ceded Bhagavan Shri Krishna, was none other than the great Sage-Prince Siddhartha, later Bhagavan Shri Gautam Buddh (of the kshatriya Suryavanshi Sakya clan.)

We know that Krishna ultimately freed his clans and indeed the country as a whole - of the spectre of the all-constricting Magadhan python. But this was not the end of the latter. The python re-appeared after a period of time - much like the Raktabeej that our ancients warned us about, in the 4th and current era - the Kali Yug. This time, an austere Brahmin, who I regard as the Shri Krishna of Kali Yug, rose to the challenge and vanquished it. Looks like, the Magadhan python keeps rearing its ugly head periodically. 

Later, the same austere Brahmin along with his protégé, also danced atop the white Macedonian python when it showed up at the gates of ancient India (Bharatvarsha).

The 10th avatar is popularly known as Kalki and he is yet to appear. Kalki - literally means 'the destroyer of evil'. However, there is no concept of 'evil' in the Vedas or in the philosophy of life rooted in the Vedic wisdom (Sanaatan Dharm). Sanaatan = timeless and Dharm = path or 'the way of life'. The soul after departing the mortal body does not 'rest in peace' as is popularly believed by some sections of society. There is this concept of Charaiveti - to keep going, in some other form, based on one's Karm (actions committed in that life) - as per the principles of 'Karm Yog'. A great soul will be reborn to carry on the good work, in whichever capacity; but every soul (irrespective of its accumulated Karm phal, the fruits of its Karm - in the previous birth) will be reborn accordingly, and get an opportunity to redeem itself. The soul has no gender, only the outer covering - the mortal body - takes the shape of a human (a man, a woman, a tritiya prakriti - the 3rd gender) or an animal, a plant, a bird, an insect, a reptile and so on and so forth.

Also, the 'Dasavatara' - the 10-incarnations/manifestations of Shri Vishnu could not have been predicted. 'Coz the first 4 avatars most certainly preceded the appearance of humans on earth. The Dasavatara is as follows: 1. Matsya avatar (fish) 2. Kurma avatar (tortoise) 3. Varaha avatar (wild boar) 4. Narasimha avatar (lion-man) 5. Vamana avatar (dwarf or small-sized humans) 6. Parasurama 7. Rama 8. Balarama 9. Krishna and 10. Buddh. And that takes the count to 10. If Kalki were to be added, the count goes up to 11, and then it can no longer be called the 'Dasavatara', right? Umm, I did read somewhere that before the 12th century AD, there is no mention of Kalki. So, is Kalki a later-day addition? And if yes, then by whom and why?

That is the question. Was it to indicate the signs of the times; that the world, rather creation per se, will be threatened by the activities of a group of humans? What do you think? And what in your opinion was the 'Dasavatara' essentially meant to symbolize?

Also, we tend to think of Kali Yug as 'the dark age of the demon Kali'. But there is no such thing as a demon - in our culture; this word has made its appearance in our collective vocabulary thanks to the translations of our ancient texts - by aliens. Therefore, we can safely conclude that things have been lost and/or distorted in translation. You see, Kali also means a "bud," and a bud is beautiful to behold. It slowly opens and then gradually metamorphoses into a lovely flower, right? And after a certain lapse of time, this beautiful flower starts to wither away. That's the law of nature. But the key as to when the current Kali Yug should begin to wither away is in our hands - based on our actions, our Karm Yog, remember? 

Bhagavan Shri Krishna's immortal words from the Srimad Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter 2 Verse - 47):

"karmaNi eva adhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana,
maa karma phala hetuH bhuH maa sanghaH astu akarmaNi"

Meaning: "Thy business is with the action only, never with its fruits; so let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor be thou to inaction attached."

Therefore, in any given situation, we must make a conscious decision and do our best to uphold it; remaining inactive or being a fence-sitter is NOT an option ... if we want to prevent the kali from withering away, that is.

II Jai Shri Krishn II

Details of the Book: The Krishna Key/ Author: Ashwin Sanghi/ Publisher: Westland/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 2012/ Genre: Thriller/ ISBN-10: 978-93-81626-68-9/ ISBN-13: 9789381626689/ Pages: 475/ Price: Rs.250 (Rs. 175 @ Flipkart.)

The book trailer is brilliantly done: Link. Ameya Naik and Kushal Gopalka have impressed once again. Their earlier effort in Chankaya's Chant was mind-blowing: Link.

Picture: The book jacket cover of 'The Krishna Key'. Courtesy: link.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

1888 Dial India by Anuvab Pal

This one makes for a nifty read. Nifty - in all its myriad shades and meanings that is, if you know what I mean.

Anuvab Pal is an acclaimed playwright and screenplay writer. His screenplays include the award winning The Loins of Punjab - "a witty musical comedy with a sharp political edge" as per the NY Times, and The President is Coming - a low-budget English-language film that "takes a healthy snigger at the desi self" according to Nikhat Kazmi (from the Times of India.)

However, what has been overlooked so far is Anuvab's stellar selling skills and awesome pursuing power. Here's why: In the foreword itself (titled: Why am I writing a memoir?) he mentions and I quote, "I have always wanted to hire a Bengali secretary. I have always wanted to hire a Bengali secretary with an MA. Ideally in English Literature. I won't go into why. It has something to do with Aparna Sen getting wet."

Then towards the end of the book he writes, and I quote, "The only Bengali I like is Aparna Sen because she got wet in a movie I saw a little bit of, and yes, maybe I was a bit drunk that night because of Antara leaving. The point is, I like wet Bengalis. But definitely not the dry ones."

And here's the clincher: on the back cover of this book, like a masthead, stands the words, "Pal is one of the funniest people I know!" - Konkona Sen Sharma.

Well, we are all familiar with Konkona, aren't we? She featured in the Aparna Sen-helmed Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Vishal Bharadwaj's Omkara (a desi take on Othello), the Madhur Bhandarkar directed noir film named Traffic Signal and Page 3, Anurag Basu's Life in a... Metro, Zoya Akhtar's Luck by Chance and Ayan Mukerjee's romantic comedy Wake Up Sid - in which she starred alongside Ranbir Kapoor.

But that's not the point. The point is: Konkona is Aparna Sen's daughter. So, now (hopefully) you will fully understand why I said that the author (Anuvab Pal) possesses stellar selling skills and awesome pursuing power, what?! :)

Frankly speaking, I too have watched loads of Bangla movies, including several featuring a young Aparna Sen, though I don't recall any movie where she got wet. But then I did not watch those films for her; I watched them for their sublime humour, great storyline, lovely songs ... and Soumitro Chattopadhyay (not necessarily in that order though). Here are a few of those movies: Basanta Bilap, Baksha Badal, Akash Kusum, Chhutir Phande. [Caveat to self: I better not venture into Soumitro territory, 'coz then this would no longer be a book review; in which case Random House will stop sending me any more books. See my point? Good.]

As for wet and dry Bengalis, am not quite sure what they are. You see, once upon a time Bengal was officially called West Bengal, but pronounced as Oaest Bengal; this erroneously gave the message that it was actually Waste Bengal. Therefore, Didi very prudently changed it to Poschimbongo - so that the rest of the folks (outside of Bengal and Bengalis) could have a real tongue-twister to contend with. Methinks: this well-intentioned thoughtfulness probably qualifies Didi as a dry Bengali. Also, Mamma Mia, Behenji, Amma, et al are unlikely to ever visit Poschimbongo or even mention it. There you are, several birds with one tongue-twister! Didi is bheree clever, I tell you.

Book Blurb: 2009-year of the slump. America is in the grip of severe economic hardship and unemployment. The only numbers that are on the rise is the suicide rate.

Arun Gupta, entrepreneur, lothario, Aramis cologne user, evangelist of new India's new dreams, sees a glimmer of a business plan form out of the American crisis. He wants to save lives. And he wants to do it sitting in his baroque Navi Mumbai office. His idea is simple. If everything can be outsourced to India, why not the saving of American lives?

Part rant, part satire, 1888 Dial India documents, through the politically incorrect words of its anti- hero, the dreams of corporate India.

My Two Pence Worth: Anuvab Pal, through his central character, Arun Gupta, the semi-comical, clueless (self-proclaimed) serial entrepreneur has held up a mirror to "new India". This book (in the form of a memoir) is a searing satire on "new India" - her people, the youth, their attitude, the captains of industry, the policy makers, the many businesses cropping up ... and the like; the superficiality and the shallowness of it all. In fact, the author has managed to cover the whole spectrum in just 230-odd pages of this slight book.

Liberalization arrived over 21 years ago, but the shining Information Technology (IT) industry came up about a dozen years back, thanks to the Y2K bug that had to be fixed. These bug-fixers later became glorified software engineers ... and the backbone of an emerging industry (which relied primarily on outsourced work - from the developed world.) Shortly thereafter, came the offshoot - the Call Centre and the BPO business. Work outsourced from the developed world yet again; work that the inhabitants of the developed world were either uninclined (too busy or too big) to do themselves, or even if they did, it cost 5, 6 or 7 times more than what they could easily manage here - in this promised land of outsourcing.

Many a starry-eyed youth decided to swim in this attractive sea. Attractive since the pay was considerably higher than the pocket money they received from their parents. So, chunks of our youth chucked college (read: studies) and queued up for a sum that had one or two extra zeros more than what their regular pocket money possessed. The lure for a couple of extra zeros made them to blithely brush-off the numerous health side-effects and even unsettle their body-clocks by turning nocturnal. As modern architecture, symbolized by shiny glass-and-chrome buildings, swallowed up our grass-fields, parks, agricultural lands, playgrounds and even lakes, India became more and more 'developed' and 'culturally evolved'. All thanks to this outsourcing phenomenon (read: the numerous outsourced jobs) - that unfailingly become an issue in the US of A - come election time; though the captains of industry there aren't at all keen on getting it done in the land of cowboys, Pepsi, Coke, KFC and McDonald's. But then, why would they, when they can have their cake and eat it too?! But a total focus on perceived profits and a mad rush to identify sunrise sectors - have their own story to tell.

What have our policy-makers done? As usual, gorminted and are still gorminting! Has there been any system or processes in place - to deal with the issues arising out of sudden five-figure salaries, assumed names, fake accents, alien culture, nocturnal jobs or studies left mid-way? Well, my guess is as good as yours. What's even worse is that, there has been no attempt to scale up on the quality and type of work that was being outsourced and accepted in the name of 'synergy', 'growth' and what-not. (This scaling-up should have happened a long time ago, but hasn't.) Whether this was due to lack of vision or complacency or something else, we shall never know. But the bubble is bursting. Where's the product-driven work, where's R&D, where's cutting edge? Nowhere in sight! We have firmly stayed put as a cost centre, and turned the young workforce into a bunch of cyber-coolies instead.

We have managed to create a large pool of engineering, law, medical and management graduates, even post-graduates and PhDs - thanks to proliferating educational institutes. But what is the quality of either of them? And what is the type of work they are doing, if at all? What sort of India is being built, painted brightly and then termed "new India" and all that jazz? A mirage looks good and alluring from afar, but can a nation and people become so?

The pompous central character, Arun Gupta, runs an outsourcing company specializing in suicides. He has decided to turn saving lives into a profitable venture. In his typical over-confident manner, he is convinced that a suicide help-line is a veritable goldmine (especially at a time when the US of A is reeling under the body blow dealt by the Lehman Brothers.) ... And what's more, he has decided to run it from apna Mumbai (more precisely, from Prestige Business Centre) along with his entire workforce consisting of: Rashmi (aka Meghan) and Ramesh (aka Gregory aka Greg).

How he (Arun) goes about it all - setting up, sales pitch, VC funding, training, hiring, motivating, inter-personal skills, people management, and so on and so forth, is a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top satirical take on how a lot of things have been done and are still being done in this country and elsewhere. It is also a commentary (albeit with dollops of sarcasm and irony) on businesses that first latch on to and then depend on outsourced work, but what happens if this work is heavily dependent on precariously balanced lives and economy?

Verdict: Anuvab's prolific pen rather keyboard, drips with satire and sarcasm; it pokes fun at every issue, every entity and every institution. There's the sublime mixed with the in-your-face, which in-turn is blended with slapstick, over-the-top and whacky. One cannot really classify all this as humour; he is clearly not a humour-writer. He is a satirist that weaves in heavy dozes of biting sarcasm camouflaged as humour and wit; and he does it very well indeed. From Tata, Godrej, Ambani, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, product endorsements, SRK, Facebook, TCS, Satyam, Tiger Woods, Osama, Obama, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Hillary Clinton, Manmohan Singh, George Michael, Imran Khan, garbage, garage, skyscrapers, mortgage, hot-shot business schools, matrimonial ads, nothing has been spared.

There's even the bit about someone deciding to invent penicillin in order to save the life of his little boy ... while also laying the foundation of a huge empire on the side. That's new-age philanthropy and care.

Not too different from Starbucks and how they've successfully built their business since 1971. It is interesting to note how the company's mission statement is not to sell a lot of coffee, but rather "to inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time."

Do pick up this book and read it. It's not a weighty tome, and makes for a breezy read; though it deals with a mélange of issues - all of which we can easily identify with. But once you have turned the last page, do try to exercise your gray cells and figure out the many layers and decipher the camouflaged language. As for moi, I'll make sure to catch Anuvab's movies and read his books - henceforth.

Rating: 4/5

The production value of the book is good, editing errors are rare and therefore negligible. The book jacket cover is bright, the book name embossed in red and gold - also the colours of the state that houses India's Silicon Valley, and complete with the image of a young girl wearing a call center headset. It instantly catches the eye. But behind all the shine and glitter is a faceless supplier of cheap labour; one whose identity, thoughts, emotions, imagination and creativity has been stunted and altered by outsourcing - forever. But above all - have we even attempted to grasp the heart, the soul and the future of a nation that is being built as the promised land of cheap labour?

Details of the Book: 1888 Dial India/ Author: Anuvab Pal/ Publisher: Random House/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 2011/ Genre: Fiction/ ISBN: 9788184001587/ Pages: 232/ Price: Rs.150.

Picture: The book jacket cover of '1888 Dial India'. Courtesy: link.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Doordarshan, etc: Wisps of Nostalgia (Part-II)

Author's Note: You may read the 1st part of this series: HERE.

Here's a little trivia regarding "Kitty" of Jasoos Karamchand: the popular misconception that Sushmita Mukherjee is actor Keshto Mukherjee's daughter. In the 70's and early 80's, Keshto Mukherjee specialized in comic drunkard roles in Hindi films. He was a discovery of the legendary Ritwik Ghatak, but it was Asit Sen who ought to be credited for unearthing Keshto Mukherjee's potentials for the patent drunkard act (although he was a teetotaler in real life). Here is Keshto Mukherjee doing his classic act (that of a drunkard) and annoying Utpal Dutt immensely (in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-directed 1979 classic 'Golmaal'):

Now, think of the latest auteurism that has come out of Ro'hit' Shetty's stable? A (supposedly) 'modern take' on Hrishi-da's classic! Enough said. Think of the other 'masterpieces' being churned out at regular intervals? There seems to be no dearth of Vitamin M - when it comes to sponsoring or financing below-the-nadir stuff. And to think we are bang in the middle of a bottom-less recession! Strange indeed!!

It is true that various channels are exploring new avenues for generating mirth. Shekhar Suman's now-defunct Movers and Shakers tried mime and parody so successfully that one of his prime targets, the then prime minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, personally complimented him. Later Suman anchored Poll Khol wherein he targeted various politicians. Often, the monkey in the show overshadowed the host.

As for Shekhar Suman (SS), he is now a pale shadow of his once-upon-a-time-glory-days of 'Reporter', which kept us glued to the television screens. Samir Hegde of 'Reporter' was a total contrast to Samir Diwan of the laugh-riot 'Dekh Bhai Dekh'. However, both were a far cry from the blabber-box that SS has somehow managed to metamorphose himself into. The much-admired Samir Hegde (from 'Reporter') was a very unassuming, well-meaning, down to earth, investigative journalist. His manner and attitude were more intense, more ponderous and in terms of dialogue ... understandably quite unlike those mouthed by the somewhat frivolous Samir Diwan (from 'Dekh Bhai Dekh'). But we loved them both - one made us think, the other made us laugh. And Shekhar's expressions weren't frozen then. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about his various avatars that plague us now (or have been plaguing us for a while now) - on the idiot-box. Botox has claimed yet another high-profile victim. Muscles and nerves have been 'downsized' as per the signs of the times and have been given the 'golden handshake' aka 'voluntary retirement' too; therefore, no voluntary or involuntary responses or reflexes to be found on the faces of folks facing the arc-lights. Muscles and nerves: RIP.

Sadly, now-a-days, people turn into walking mummies but no pyramids are built anywhere. That's progress, I guess.

Whether 'Movers and Shakers' - the very popular tongue-in-cheek current affairs show hosted by Shekhar Suman in his earlier mobile-faced avatar, complete with an in-house musical band, innovatively christened the 'Rubber-band' - was telecast by DD (Doordarshan) or not, I don't quite remember.

Ditto 'Pradhan Mantri' featuring the versatile Kay Kay Menon and Malvika Tiwari. But 'Ji Mantriji', which took a barbed look at Babudom and featured Farooque Shaikh, was telecast by Star Plus.

We discussed crime-based and detective serials in the 1st part of this series. Frankly, when it comes to iconic detective characters, I prefer the original ... or at least one or the other of their earlier versions. In short: yours truly isn't really taken up with any of the upgraded or modified variations, no matter how many clothes they shed. I mean: the compulsory 'moulting' that actors have to undergo these days, whatever the weather. 

So, Benedict Cumberbatch or no Benedict Cumberbatch, my loyalties firmly lie and will remain with Jeremy Brett - always. He IS Sherlock Holmes. Period. Gazing down from the suitably cavernous windows of 221B, was Jeremy Brett. Watching him stride on the small-screen today - as the peerless detective (thanks to box-set DVDs), I am transported back to my childhood days. Jeremy Brett and Sherlock Holmes continue to thrill and fascinate.

[Jeremy Brett: website.]

During his distinguished 40-year career, however, Brett's repertoire included such diverse roles as the foppish Freddie Eynsford-Hill in the 1964-film version of My Fair Lady, Bassanio, Robert Browning, Che Guevara, Dracula, and even Dr. Watson in a 1980 Los Angeles production of the play The Crucifer of Blood, with the screen-legend Charlton Heston as Holmes. However, Brett's brilliant portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in a series of episodes for British television (filmed between 1984 and 1994) - remains ever-popular. With his intense and ascerbic Holmes, Brett added something to the character (of Holmes) that no one else whom I have seen has done: He brought a sense of humor to the part. And he and David Burke and Edward Hardwicke let us know that this Holmes was very good friends with Dr. John Watson.

Jeremy was very ill by the time the last series of S.H went into production. His ill-health visibly showed but he bravely carried on. Here was a well-known and accomplished actor willing to go to the lengths of losing weight, dying his hair and taking up pipe smoking to properly inhabit the world's most famous detective. It all seems very irresistible; but it also proved fatal for him, leading to a nervous breakdown, repeated illness and a premature death.   

Robert Downey, Jr.? Nah.

Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writings (as well as those of the celebrated Agatha Christie's) were not free from racial leanings and colour, we - the Indians - have always possessed the necessary magnanimity and sophistication required to separate the milk (cream) from the water. The fair and lovely world has failed to acknowledge this. But so what?

However, while the British have preserved the famous (yet fictitious) address - 221B Baker Street; we - the Indians - have destroyed and demolished every inch of the brilliant Shankar Nag's beloved "Malgudi". There are some lessons that we can and should learn from our erstwhile colonial masters; unfortunately, we have been insisting on learning the wrong ones.

I am glad that the "Feluda" series still remain firmly in the hands of the Ray family and Satyajit Ray's son, Sandip Ray, remains perched atop the director's saddle. Otherwise, by now cringe-inducing item numbers, crude jokes, lewd gestures, double-entendre dialogues and adult content would have first wormed their way into the narrative - flaunting the ever-ready laws of necessity, market dynamics, changing tastes of Gen X, reel-life mimicking real-life, aesthetics and whatnot. And though I said, "first wormed their way into the narrative", in reality, all the above would have quickly enveloped and submerged the narrative itself - thanks to sundry moneybags, etc that are so keenly and genuinely 'concerned' about projecting real life onto reel life ... while upholding 'our ancient culture and traditions' - simultaneously. Quite a balancing act, must say.

I so wish Satyajit had made 'Badshahi Angti' (The Emperor's Ring) - even before making 'Shonar Kella' (The Golden Fort). This way, Soumitro would have played Feluda and that would have been a perfect cinematic treat - one, we would have cherished forever. The quartet of Feluda, Sherlock Holmes, Byomkesh Bakshi and Tintin actually made us want to be detectives, no? Here is Soumitro as Feluda (in Shonar Kella) exercising his 'mogojastro' - his agile mind and brilliance:

None can quite match up to Soumitro. He is an enchanting combination of good looks, great personality and classy demeanor; a rich, cultured voice combined with layered and nuanced acting abilities. Many think him to be Satyajit Ray's alter ego. Anyone going gaga over thespian Dilip Kumar's or even the emperor-of-ham, Shahrukh Khan's portrayal of 'Devdas' - should watch the Bangla version featuring Soumitro - in the same role. Superlative. [Those who do not know the language can use the subtitles option.]

Now, weren't all these movies so much better than the heavy-duty-dialogue-spewing-angry-young-man types, heaving bosoms, jhatkas-matkas, cheap jokes, rehashed clichés and all? Weren't they better than what now passes for "new-age cinema" or masquerades as "mass entertainment"? 

Do films really portray real-life? Is reel-life actually inspired by or borrowed from real-life? Or is reel-life a powerful vehicle, instrument and medium - for creating multiple mindsets, one that has been utilized to the hilt? 

As usual ... you decide.

The charm of the classics: be it movies, books or music have not diminished, even after many decades ... and they will most certainly retain their allure after the passage of several more decades. Then why is there a dearth of such movies, books or music (conveniently ascribed to 'changing tastes of Gen X', 'market dynamics' and the like) ?? Why is there a sudden 'paucity of funds'?

What do you think? [Always keep your thinking cap handy - to bring out the mini-Sherlock Holmes in you :)]

Well ... I guess we have discussed enough about movies; lets get back to the television fare of yore.

Some of DD's shows targeted at children (but enjoyed by viewers of all ages) were: Fairy Tale Theatre (that featured all-time favourites like: Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, etc); Dada Dadi Ki Kahaaniyan, Vikram Betaal, Singhasan Battisi, Indradhanush, Space City Sigma, Stone Boy, Malgudi Days, Tenali Rama, Potli Baba Ki, Superhuman Samurai Cyber Squad, Knight Rider, Street Hawk and a suspense-horror serial - Qile ka Rahasya (1989). 

Rex Smith (astride the all-black mesmerizing mean machine) - was played by Jesse Mach. We diligently watched every episode, and that does say it all, doesn't it? :) Do have a look:

Seema Kapoor, actor and TV personality Annu Kapoor's sister and acclaimed actor Om Puri's first wife, helmed the very popular 'Qile Ka Rahasya'. How the jealous, egoistic and insecure Om Puri destroyed her and her very promising career - are stuffs that legends are made of. But I wish this legend were not made; and those of you that have watched this serial would agree, won't you?

I'm still shaking my head though.

[Annu Kapoor is the guy who played Sridevi's editor in Mr. India.]

R.K. Narayan's "Malgudi Days" continue to charm and perhaps DD still telecasts all of the 39 episodes off and on. But there are CDs and DVDs for the ones (like moi) that cannot wait until DD decides to re-telecast them. Here's My Reflections on 'Malgudi Days' and Malgudi: How a village was transformed into R.K. Narayan's fabled town - from the blog archives.

Malgudi Days was and is not the usual comic production. The idyllic setting, innocent characters having small problems, and only imaginary demons to contend with, leave one wishing for such a charmed and laid-back life. When, at the end of an episode, a problem is resolved, one feels contented. A sense of happy satisfaction is the ultimate test of a quality comedy. But can we say: Give us more?! 

Well, you and I both know the answer to that one.

'Malgudi Days' remains one of the most loved, nostalgic television series of all times. I have shared my thoughts in my two earlier posts on Malgudi (links provided above) and therefore ain't deliberating on it again. But this is what my friend Rajdeep had to say: "Malgudi Days has been one of my favorite books over the years. We identify ourselves with those stories. The present generation X does not seem to. They will miss the treasure not us. Unfortunately most of the good books do not have translations in foreign languages. I actually gifted a copy of "Malgudi" to my university library here, though I doubt anyone would ever read it!" [Rajdeep was referring to the library of a well-known University in Japan.]

This, while certain "ist" and "ism"-based writers seem to have no shortage of translators and publishers; no matter how cringe-worthy their works are. *Sigh*

The spicier the contents, the longer the line of translators and publishers - outside their homes and offices; the more coloured, fantasy and figment of imagination-inspired their works on history, the more the takers - and all of them then jointly flood our bookstores and airwaves. Result??

Post the unbottling of the much-vaunted liberalization genie, television has not been indulging in profound issues or even simple entertainment; it keeps doling out stupefying doses of frivolities. The inane soaps churned out sap the intellect and wearies the soul. And, since the entertainment industry caters to the lowest common denominator, it cannot afford to be cerebral. Or so we have been told; and the ones that tell, expect us (viewers) to accept this logic and be 'understanding' too.

Sadly, ever since the almost-namesake of 'Kyunki Chaach Bhi Kabhi Dahi Thi' hit our cable airwaves, all we have been receiving are perfectly coiffed and made-up dolls - glittering sarees, elbow-length churiyan, big bindis, high-heel stilettos, wedge or beaded sandals and all ... preparing tea at the crack of dawn (read: in the blue predawn hours). Perhaps to wake up the roosters for their morning cock-a-doodle-doo, or maybe that too has been outsourced - to this churiyan-brigade. Who knows?

(Stay tuned…)

Pictures: 1. Pic1 - Keshto Mukherjee and Utpal Dutt in Golmaal (1979). 2. Pic2 - Jeremy Brett (as Sherlock Holmes from "The Problem of Thor Bridge". 3. Pic3 - Feluda and Topshe - sketch by Satyajit Ray. 4. Pic4 - Soumitra Chattopadhyay as Feluda (in Satyajit Ray's Shonar Kella). 5. Pic5 - Rex Smith (astride the mesmerizing mean machine) - played by Jesse Mach. 6. Pic6 - R.k. Laxman's sketch for 'Malgudi Days'; don't remember the link :(