Monday, July 25, 2011

Corruption ka The End?

Author's note: This is my debut column for The Viewspaper – an online newspaper and India's largest youth paper.

Money wearing Black! Slack! Without bees or wasps - 'Corruption' - is the buzzword. Right you heard. What is - 'corruption'? Never out of fashion. Can we define it? No treat. Aakhir 'corruption' kis chidiya ka naam hai? What say?

Anna and Baba vow to eliminate it from society. Oh goody! Once and for all! That's tall. Is it doable? Double trouble. Will money leave the classic black and opt for the pristine white? Fight or flight.

Corruption = evasion of taxes. Culprits = the usual suspects. Netalog-policewallahs-businessmen! Ten on ten! Just like Baa, Bahoo aur Baby. But then all that fails to glitter can also be gold. Blow hot and cold.

"Maun-vrat' when injustice happens. 'Coz "silence is golden".

Violence, injustice @ homes, offices, marketplace, malls, public transports, roads. Already bored?

Teachers playing truant during exams! Have an egg with some jam. Better than traffic jam!

Doctors and bank employees following suit. Two hoot!

Transporters making their presence felt. Svelte!

Shenanigans of our men-in-black and of those who wield the microphone! Gone deaf stone?

Neglect and pull down achievers - as a society. Demo-crazy. It's the beauty of crab mentality!

"Chai-pani" to a peon, clerk, nurse, ward boy, waiter or coolie? Hilly Billy.

Paying hefty donations to 'book' a seat inengineering/medical/management institutes? Puss in Boots!

No tickets issued yet money changes hands. Sheer magic - sleight of hand!

When gender determination, infanticide and female foeticide happens? Two pence.

Of dowry and bride burning. No whining. India is shining.

Of rape and molestation - even by close relatives? Theory of relativity, silly! It's all in the jeans you see!

So, even babies, toddlers, the middle aged and the elderly also "asked for it"? You bet, they did!

Swayamvar ahoy! Cast(e) away.

I could go on and on and on.

If honey is kept on someone's tongue is it possible that s/he will not taste it? After all, why 'waste' it?

Chanakya – the Yugpurush (the timeless man) of Kaliyug - the age in which we live - warned against collecting taxes in large proportions. Governments should collect taxes like a honeybee - said he - which sucks just the right amount of honey from the flower so that both can survive.

There's much to learn from the birds, the bees and the flowers, G!

"One must know the nature of beast before trying to tame it," said the wise Mullah Nasruddin. To gain from his wisdom we should be keen.

Periodic brouhaha, TV debates = noise pollution. People with 'funds' should be induced to do something good for society. No hoity toity. No one-time grant. No rant.

Partner with remote villages and hamlets - build and maintain clean toilets for the residents and schools.

Build hospitals/health centers and sponsor the equipments, remuneration and medicines.

Provide fruits, milk and a boiled egg - daily - for the schoolchildren and nourishment for pregnant women.

"They" can do all this and more in their name or that of their forefathers'. The "costs" aren’t great but the benefits are. I swear!

Photograph: Participants at an 'anti-corruption rally' in India. Pic. courtesy link.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Somewhere @ Nowhere by Nikesh Rathi

This is the debut novel of Nikesh Rathi, and he has chosen to take the road less traveled vis-à-vis the spate of new writers who have presented themselves for us to sink our teeth into. Thankfully it steers clear of an ill timed, ill developed and thoroughly clichéd love story or an almost love story, that has sadly become de rigueur.

Somewhere @ Nowhere also made it to the Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2011 Longlist – which must have made Nikesh Say Cheese!

The Storyline: The protagonist, Aditya Khanna, is quite a thoroughbred - IIT-IIM-Investment Banker - with an enviable paycheck. But then as all good things in life come to an end, the bubble burst. His company filed for bankruptcy and the dreaded pink slip appeared out of the blue. Instead of going right back to job hunting and diligently scanning various job sites, Aditya decides to embark on a journey - to discover India, no less. But will this journey also lead to self-discovery and clear the cobwebs in his head - that is the crux.

No, he wasn't drawing inspiration from the eventual experience of the supreme joy of full enlightenment by Prince Siddhartha - THE Buddha. You see Aditya was merely one of the many Corporate Buddhas *grin*

But nonetheless he did hope to reap a rich harvest - that of clarity of thought and a perspective on life's meaning and purpose.

Accompanied by a friend - Ashish - yet another victim of the pink slip, they embarked on an unplanned journey, passing through holy places - Haridwar, Rishikesh - en route to the Himalayas, the jungles of Orissa, remote hamlets, villages and small towns, the IT city - Bangalore, pleasure haven - Goa, et al.

Traveling light, without laptop or cell phone - they journey by rickety buses, general compartments of local trains, rented bikes and on foot, staying in small nondescript hotels and lodges, befriending strangers, meeting people they would have never met before, drinking tea from roadside shacks and eating food that would have been labeled "unhygienic" many times over.

Braving the heat and biting cold, unexpected rains, staying unshaved and unwashed - they encounter villagers - farmers and simple hill folks, truck drivers, hotel helpers and caretakers. And a vast number of sadhus! Claiming to have supposedly 'renounced the world' - they go about smearing themselves with ash, emulating the third of the "Trinity", smoking chillums and demanding money or trying to think of ways to make some. This particular group or industry has never put a freeze on hiring even during the bitter Himalayan winters. And they have never been pink-slipped! Rather they are pink slip proof.

Incidentally, this ancient Vedic faith has always stressed upon "Karma Yog" or the "discipline of action". It has never advocated 'renunciation of the world'. Instead urged us to always do our duty or uphold 'Dharma', to the best of our ability - on righteous principles. Of the four paths to realization, Karma Yog is the science of achieving perfection in action. To quote Shri Krishna's immortal words from the Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter II-47):

"Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,

Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva 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."

How simple and how relevant, even today! That the Bhagavad-Gita is universally renowned as the jewel of India's spiritual wisdom, it is because of Karma Yog.

Always do your best without expecting the results and you will be happy. Such simple words, yet so profound! No? Sadly spiritual texts and discourses by Gurus these days do not emphasize on doing one's duty. But then earlier we had Munis, Rishis, Maharshis, Devarshis, Brahmarshis, Paramhamsas and Avadhutas. Now we have self styled 'Sadhus', assorted 'Babas' and countless 'Mithyanands'. What a climbdown!

But I digress.

Which of the people that Aditya and Ashish encounter are happy? Who are the ones that have been able to reconcile themselves with their circumstances? What is faith and what role does it play? You will come across these and some more... in bits and pieces in the book.

Suggestions: However their encounters with the truck driver (Harvinder), the nameless sadhu and the hotel helper cum caretaker Robert... make for an interesting read, though I feel there was scope for some more insightful narrative about the sense of vastness, mystery, power and the critical ingredients of our lives.

Certain events and encounters like the one in the jungles of Orissa (now Odisha) are underdone. There is definitely scope for some more content there and the characters, their situations and their conversations could have been better fleshed out. In the absence of which, the emotions that the author would have liked to convey have not come through that well. They seem somewhat barricaded, so to speak.

Ditto Malti. In her case, the metamorphosis is a little too rushed. She is vulnerable, hurt, lonely, shelter less, scared and scarred, and all of this can ebb or be overcome only gradually. We miss that process, that journey.

Even the co-explorer - Ashish - becomes irrelevant, a mere 'tag along' after a while. Additional dialogue to him and more conversation between him, Aditya, the nameless sadhu, Harvinder and Robert would have helped. It may have provided a different perspective. Some conflicts too would have been refreshing... say between Aditya and Ashish.

The author has chosen the impersonal 'telling' route over the more interesting dialogue or conversation format. It's best not to 'tell' your readers what your characters feel. Show them through action. But that's very hard to do, and takes practice. Ruskin Bond excels in this genre but then he is a class act. It's so much easier to 'tell' how the characters feel instead... but it 'takes away' too and gets monotonous after a while, leaving the reader unable to postpone the niggling feeling that the author was perhaps in a hurry to complete the book and maybe, just maybe had a page limit in mind too.

The production quality of the book is average but the book jacket cover is quite attractive. However I feel that the titles of the chapters (e.g., 'Captured', 'The Escape', 'Lost Somewhere', ‘Still a rat?’ etc.) reveal too much and rob off the charm and suspense of the following pages. It somewhat dilutes the interest. Not done.

At only 144 pages, Somewhere @ Nowhere makes for a breezy read. The chapters are short... much like the pages of a diary and give the impression that one is reading the book faster than one actually is. However, some tighter editing to prune out some versatile and advanced filler words and phrases like: "and all", "or something", "stuff" and doing away with the one obvious flaw: the somewhat prosaic and sometimes rather clunky writing... would have greatly helped in making the readers' journey smoother.

With the kind of events weaved into the narrative, a lot more could have been done. With the right mix: some taut drama, conflicts, surprise elements, a few heart tugging moments and by cutting out the deadwood - filler words/phrases and perhaps the urge for a quick closure, this one could have turned out to be a very good read. A very good read in it's own right - a much meatier, insightful and thought provoking read.

My rating: I am going with a 3/5 for Nikesh Rathi's debut novel. It is not a run-of-the-mill story and stands out among the deluge of dreck camouflaged as romantic novels in our bookstores these days and at just Rs. 150/ is light on the wallet too.

However, Somewhere @ Nowhere should have been a longer journey with some more content added to it. There was ample scope for it too. But, for a debut author it is a fairly good attempt. I would say that the book held a lot more promise than it actually delivered. Whether it contains some bits and pieces from the author's own life... my guess is as good as yours. But I feel Nikesh can do much better. It may be a good idea to revisit the storyline before the book gets into its second or perhaps third print run. It will feel complete then.

Details of Book: Somewhere @ Nowhere/ Author: Nikesh Rathi/ Pages: 144/ ISBN: 812231130X/ ISBN-13: 9788122311303, 978-8122311303/ Publishing Date: 2010/ Publisher: Cedar Books - Pustak Mahal/ Binding: Paperback/ Price: Rs. 150/ (Rs. 143 on Flipkart)

Photograph: The book jacket cover of Somewhere @ Nowhere. Picture courtesy: link.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

There is no greater reward than this :)

The greatest compliments are unexpected indeed.

A schoolteacher - Lekshmy - wrote the following lines after reading my review of "
Ruskin Bond's Book of Nature":

Dear Roshmi Sinha,
This is an amazing review. I am a school teacher and I was wondering how to inspire my students to read more than their English textbooks. In my English class I read the lines from your review and showed it to them. They were pretty much excited. So I typed three short stories of Ruskin Bond and uploaded it in the school website. They all enjoyed it very much. Now they all are fans of Ruskin Bond. Thank you very much for inspiring my students. I wanted you to know that you were the key that unlocked the door of a wonderful world for eighty two students.

Her note made my year! I felt humbled and enthused beyond words. It was wonderful to know that the magical mystique of Bond's beautiful words and the lilting charm of his prose have lost none of their appeal. And the children are indeed fortunate to have a teacher like Lekshmy. No?

However, I also felt that she shouldn't be thanking me. She should thank Ruskin Bond instead - for writing such charming stories filled with warmth, gentle humour, adventure and serene wisdom - and for bringing such joy to our lives.

Therefore, I have taken the liberty to share his address with them and hopefully they will write to him - soon. All his 82 young fans! Wouldn't that be super exciting!

As for the master storyteller - he really is a class act!

I am now reading his Roads to Mussoorie and will be reading Landour Days next.

Photograph: Pic courtesy: link.