Tuesday, January 30, 2007


by guest blogger Pia Sen

Plot summary -- Akbar's Delhi, with some weird law against people singing outside Tansen's house because it may disturb maestro's art. Baiju's dad is leading Kirtan group to that spot, get's stopped by guards, scuffle, dad is accidentally killed, boy Baiju swears revenge on Tansen(18 times, just in case you miss it).

Cut to youth -- Baiju (Bharat Bhushan) has been adopted by do-gooder villager in remote spot and spends most of his time cavorting with lovely Meena Kumaari, 3 very nice songs (Jhule me pavan, door koi gnaae, and the most exquisite Tu ganga ki mauj, mein jamuna ka dhara). Comic relief provided by a bad singer with aspirations to Meena K's love and hand-in-marriage.

Cut -- village raided by buxom female dacoit, Baiju's singing entrances her, she is willing to spare village if Baiju comes with her. Meena Kumari follows them as they go away, singing plaintively, then dissolves in tears.

Cut -- Baiju rejects female dacoits advances with heroic lines like "how do you call yourself an aurat? What do you know of pyar?", till dacoit confesses that her current career all to do with her dad having been killed --- twaanggggg, Baiju remembers HIS dad was killed, starts yelling 'revenge revenge' and runs off to Delhi, makes it right into Tansen's house (in spite of the 30 well-paid guards around) waving sword, dramatic confrontation with Tansen, with Baiju huffing and puffing that he's gonna chop off Tansen's head, and Tansen dreamily intoning that he can ooooonly be killed thru music....

Baiju stomps off to find suitable guru who'll make him such a maestro that he'll "kill Tansen via music", finds some nice Hindu swami type, long and painful scene with Baiju insisting that he will learn music for revenge, guru going on about how music is all about forgiveness and love, this is when I went off to get coffee, when I came back, Baiju is stomping through mountains with veena on his back and comes to this temple with big idol, and proceeds to start singing all kinds of ragas (all of which are symbolized by Meena Kumari in various revealing dresses).

Baiju is now maestro, he returns, and somehow miraculously cures guru's paralysis by singing "mana tarpata hari darshana", gets accepted as disciple. In meantime Meena K is pining and pining, daddy wants her to marry the other guy, she prepares to drink poison, except she takes so goddamn long to lift cup to her lips that dacoit queen appears, dashes cup from lips, and take her off to search for Baiju.

Baiju is now almost super-maestro, when Meena K shows up at doorstep. Tearful reconciliation scene for 3 minutes, then Baiju suddenly yells "no, revenge, revenge, no love, just revenge", and runs marathon all the way back to temple in mountain with Meena K giving chase. Next dramatic confrontation, Baiju giving big dialogues like he will put sindoor on no woman's forehead till he has finished 'badla' for baap ka khoon...he leaves, Meena K dissolves in tears, random snake appears hissing.

Guru comes and tells Baiju (for 98th time) that revenge is bad scene for music, learn the beauty born of pain and turn that into music.

Twaaang, Meena Kumari overhears (that mountian must have seriously amazing acoustics), gets MAJOR inspiration. She goes off and irritates the poor snake till, in sheer frustration, it bites her! Baiju in meantime for some inexplicible reason has decided that pyar can come before badla after all and is running back -- but dwaaang -- dramatic music -- she is DYING....tearful dialogues, tearful dialogues...she is DEAD (with Baiju yelling "I will NOT LET YOU DIE" rather than actually doing anything useful to help her. (Why do movie characters always do
that ?).

Baiju does headache-inducing imitation of gone crazy with grief, yells, cackles with laughter, cusses out poor dacoit queen who doesn't know what the hell is going on, finally tells dacoit queen that SHE can take care of cremation and other necessary things, he's going to just grow a long beard and rave and rant some more.

"Duniya ke raakhwaale" starts, all very beautifully, in front of idol, Baiju wandering through deserts, mountains, and...drama....

.....to Delhi, right in front of Tansen's house -- he is singing in the FORBIDDEN SPOT, and all that "maar daalo us-se" in background is Tansen's guards, but rather than maro-ing him, they just end up gagging him --BIG anti-climax. So now Baiju is in prison, and Akbar has decreed that he must compete with Tansen in musical contest, chop-chop for the loser. In meantime -- dramatic news comes -- Meena K is NOT dead, all it took was her being attended to by someone who actually knew what to do with snakebite victims.

Summary of rest of plot (since none of the other songs are particularly interesting), Baiju gets fresh inspiration hearing she's alive! But daddy decides she should marry guy he originally set her up with, Baiju defeats Tansen by singing so eloquently that he melts big chunks of marble, everyone weeps and sobs and Tansen hails him and Baiju shows magnanimity by asking Akbar to spare Tansen's life, and right when everyone's making long flowery speeches, Baiju suddenly remembers that Meena K is still alive and takes off running like Forrest Gump, shows up minutes before wedding is scheduled but now he's on wrong side of river and major storm is brewing, takes off across river in a boat still singing, Meena K hears him and runs off in all her bridal finery and jumps into river, boat capsizes he falls into river, half the village gathers on the bank to shout clueless instructions, they swim together, exchange highly sappy dialogues, and then drown while in each other's arms. Phew!

I go off to hunt for aspirin.


PS. Watch this space for more B & Ws from B- and H-wood.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Six Acres and A Third-Fakir Mohan Senapati
Shah of Shahs-Ryszard Kapuscinski

The 19th century author, Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918) is regarded as the father of modern Oriya literature. Born in a small village near Balasore, Braja Mohan, as he was called contracted a serious illness as a child. He recovered only after being blessed by a Fakir (muslim mendicant). Thus was Fakir appended to his name.

Rare though this incident was, Fakir Mohan grew up to be rarer author.

In the nineteenth century, vernacular literature in India revolved around the romance or chivalry of mythical and royal heroes. Literary works were either paens to heroic characters or embellishments of divine romances or homage to India's ancient past. The Western form of prose, the novel, was still in its infancy. And for those literary figures that had embraced it, it was still a vehicle for expressing the lores of the old.

Senapati, in significant departure from this tradition of his time, started writing about the common man. His novels were rural plots and had the farmer, weaver, and herdsmen as protagonists. In his world, the haves were the zamindar or the city bred babus of British officialdom. In another bold move for his time, his characters spoke in a form of Oriya that was entirely colloquial.

But why am I suddenly blogging about an Oriya author of the past?

Because, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon his famous work Chha mana Atha Guntha (Six Acres and a third). Set in rural Orissa, around 1898-1900, Chha mana.... revolves around an evil zamindar Mangaraj, and how he sets his sight on a rent free plot of land (six and a third acres in area) belonging to a weaver and uses guile, deception and the legal system to usurp it. The beauty of the plot is that although the exploitation of the poor is clearly centrestage, Senapati engages his readers into rural life with wit, sarcasm, and dry humor to wade us through the daily events, the squabbles and the gossip. Despite the banter there is the underlying irony of the hierarchy of exploitation. Of the landless by the zamindar, and of the zamindar by the colonial rule and policies. Mangaraj's devious ways ultimately lead to his nemesis but though his tale has a moral end, the same does not hold for his brand of exploitation.

"It was rumoured everywhere that the judge Sahib had taken away Mangaraj's zamindari and given it to a lawyer, and that this lawyer would come with ten palanquins followed by five horses and two hundred foot soldiers to take possession of it on the next Makara Sankranti. On hearing this the people of the village reminded one another. "Oh, horse, what difference does it make to you if you are stolen by a thief? You do not get much to eat here; you will not get much to eat there. No matter who becomes the next master, we will remain his slaves. We must look after our own interests."

The wit and irony throughout the plot is what makes this book immensely readable. For instance, take Mangaraj's portrayal as a miser:

Mangaraj treated his farmhands like his own children. Now, parents are never satisfied unless they personally make sure there children have eaten their fill. So as soon as his farmhands sat down in a row for their midday meal, the zamindar would call out: "Cook, bring the rice gruel. Hurry up. My boys are dying of thirst." The cook would then serve two large bowls of watery liquid to each one. And if a farmhand ever resented having to drink so much gruel before the meal, Mangaraj would deliver a long lecture on the health-giving properties, persuading them to drink up. Only after that would he arrange for rice to be served, and then go for his bath.

There were seventeen drumstick trees in the master's orchard, and their leaves possessed certain medicinal properties. They aided digestion, were nourishing and delicious; besides they helped restore sick to health. We do not know if books really claim such properties but then we have no expertise in this field. We have merely written down what we have heard from Mangaraj himself. Naturally enough, not a single leaf found its way to the market; they were reserved exclusively for the nourishment and well being of Mangaraj's farmhands.
People who are wise can effortlessly sort the good from the bad. They know that everything the drumstick tree produces is good, except, of course, the drumsticks themselves. Which is why Mangaraj never served those to the farmhands; those went straight to the market.

This great literary work is now available to us in the form of a translation "Six Acres and a Third" (by Rabi Shankar Mishra, Satya P. Mohanty, Jatindra K. Nayak and Paul St.-Pierre, with an Introduction by Satya P. Mohanty) that was published by Penguin Press in 2005.

Polish journalist and author, Ryszard Kapuscinski died last week. A foreign correspondent for the Polish Press Agency, Kapuscinski traveled around the world in the 60s and 70s covering dozens of coups and revolutions. He wrote about these in a dozen or more books, approaching the situation through his own encounters.

He was in Iran in 1979 when the Shah was deposed and Khomeini took over power. In Shah of Shahs (Translated from Polish by William R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand), he relates a small incident pertaining to language and words; and weaves around it the conflicts in new societies being shaped out of crumbling colonies.

"And now what is he saying?" I ask again, because I don't understand Farsi.

"He is saying," one of the young men tells me, "in our country there is no room for foreign influence."

Khomeini goes on speaking and everyone follows attentively. On the screen someone's trying to quiet a group of children at the base of the platform.

"What is he saying?" I ask again after a while.

"He is saying that nobody will tell us what to do in our own home or impose anything on us, he is saying 'Be brothers to one another, be united.'"

That is all they can tell me in their halting English. Everyone learning English should understand that it is getting harder and harder to communicate in that language around the world. The same is true of French and, generally, of all European langauges. Once Europe ruled the world, sending its merchants, soldiers, and missionaries to every continent, imposing on others its own interests and culture (this in usually rather bogus versions). Even in the remotest corners of the world knowing a European language was a mark of distinction, testifying to an ambitious upbringing, and was often a necessity of life, the basis for career and promotion, and sometimes even a condition for being considered human. Those languages were taught in African schools, used in commerce, spoken in exotic parliaments, Asian courts, and Arab coffeehouses. Traveling almost anywhere in the world, Eurpeans could feel at home. They could express their opinions and understand what others were saying to them. Today the world is different. Hundreds of patriotisms have blossomed. Every nation wants to control and organize its own population, territory, resources, and culture according to native traditions.

And some gems on development a la Shah of Iran style:

Development is a treacherous river, as everyone who plunges into its current knows. On the surface the water flows smoothly and quickly, but if the captain makes one careless or thoughtless move he finds out how many whirlpools and wide shoals the river contains. As the ship comes upon more and more of these hazards the captain's brow gets more and more furrowed. He keeps singing and whistling to keep his spirits up. The ship looks as if it is still traveling forward, yet it is stuck in one place. The prow has settled on a sandbar. All this, however, happens later. In the meantime the Shah is making purchases costing billions, and ships full of merchandise are steaming toward Iran from all the continents. But when they reach the Gulf, it turns out that the small obsolete ports are unable to handle such a mass of cargo (the Shah hadn't realized this). Several hundred ships line up at sea and stay there for up to six months, for which delay Iran pays the shipping companies a billion dollars annually. Somehow the ships are gradually unloaded, but it turns out that there are no warehouses (the Shah hadn't realized this). In the open air, in the desert, in the nightmarish tropical heat lie millions of tons of all sorts of cargo. Half of it, consisting of perishable foodstuffs and chemicals, ends up being thrown away. The remaining cargo now has to be transported to the depths of the country, and at this moment it turns out that there is no transport (the Shah hadn't realized). Or rather there are few trucks and trailers but only a crumb in comparison to the need. Two thousand tractor trailers are thus ordered from Europe, but then it turns out that there are no drivers (the Shah hadn't realized). After much consulation, an airliner flies off to bring South Korean truckers from Seoul.

Kapuscinski was often mentioned as a favorite for a Nobel Literature Prize. His new book Travels with Herodotus is due for release in March 2007.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bollywood film on Marriagedom is sans Karwa chauth, Pativrata lectures, Sindur and Mangalsutra: in fact it actually talks of (gasp!) love and understanding

Kabhie Alvida Na Kehna a.k.a. KANK

After every Tom, Dick and Harry and their dog, have seen commented and discussed KANK ad infinitum, it's would seem a bit too late (if not entirely irrelevant) in the day to state one's views on it. But when has lack of necessity ever deterred certain verbose souls (that would me, of course) from making their pronouncements on elements of popular culture. After all, given that man doesn't live by bread alone, a few cents gotta be spared for the glittery world of the Bollywood celluloid.

1. First things first.

KANK. Very suitable acronym for the 193 min of noisy clank (read: barrage of tears, endless arguments, screechy n sad songs and more tears). In fact so appropriate is the acronym that it is in danger of usurping the original. As for KANK's after effect, the feeling after the last scene could succinctly be summed up as...as KLPD (and for those of you sniggering! let it be known that this is an acronym for Kabhie Lambi Phillum Dekho-maat!!!)

2. The story:

Has been hashed and rehashed but for those poor souls who haven't got around to seeing it here's a summary.

Story is set in New York; later moves to city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. Anyone expecting any dose of brotherly love, please stay away. Besides it's not fair. After all a bharatiya filmmaker can't possibly tackle all taboo subjects under the sun in one shot (and thereby send a thousand year sanskriti for a chakka. And so (mercifully) only one subject is tackled. That of love, adultery, divorce, remarriage...in that order. For the brotherly love bit there would be other Bollywood productions, I'm sure.

Back to the story. In New York live couple no. 1 consisting of Dev (SRK...or Shahrukh K. for the uninitiated) and Priya (Preity Z.); and couple no 2. made up of Maya (Rani M). and Rishi (Abhishek B.). A bit of rubic cubing brings up a third combination; that of Dev and Maya. To enable this bit of swap, the story proceeds through the following stages; first, Dev and Maya are unhappy (somewhat!!) in their respective marriages; next, Dev and Maya fall in love...adultery sequences follow whereby everything including the fireplace is photographed through soft focus lenses (ah...such is the power of love!); then they leave their spouses and eggsxactly as you are getting ready to tear your hair after 185 min of agony, the duo get together and ride into sunset...oops..er into the train.

Interspersed are Big B as Rishi's father, Samarjit Talwar (a.k.a. Sam) who we're told is sexy. This bit of info is constantly hammered via a jingle that plays "sexy sam" in every frame that the bloke appears in. Given how pea sized the bollywood audience brain is said to be, obviously no one in their right minds would bet on their memory. And so there's the jingle, just in case you went away with the wrong message that Sam-jee in yellow jumper with red belt and black sunglasses was "un-saxy".

Then there's Kiran Kher as SRK's mom, who when she's not flirting with big B is giving a ton of advice on love, labor lost and every possible topic. To be fair though, the scenes between the older actors were quite welcome and refreshing. Sadly the same couldn't be said for their (screen) kids.

3. The foursome

SRK: True Shahrukh comes with his own brand of mannerisms....one knows and one is prepared....and often one loves it.....after all who can forget those K..k..k..k..Kirans. But beware of a SRK in a form of deep, abiding and understanding love. He then starts to remind you of a special variety of meat; one that rhymes with jam and is forbidden to a particular community. Now add to that big doses of nostril flaring and cheek quivering and squeeze or two of tears and you get the picture.

Rani: Tries hard to do a good job but such are the demands of her role (that of being in a perpetual teary eyed state) that it isn't easy. She does, however, despite bucketfuls of tears that she has to shed at regular intervals, manage to look nice, sweet and elegant (read: no runny nose and all). Which brings me to the moot question. Why don't Bollywood's crying babes ever have puffy faces, runny noses or smudged make up? Why is it that their lachrymal glands function as poetically and elegantly as a poet's pen or an artist's brush; manufacturing those round lovely drops of pearl which are never in a hurry, never in a rush, never jump the queue but just ever so gently (and that too in a single file) flow down the cheek landscape.

Preity: As SRK's wife she has the role of a gutsy woman and plays it with ease. Quite liked the scene at the breakfast table where she smartly slaps her hubby. No, no, I am not one of those worshipper-of-the-violent types, but surely 140 min of SRK ham should allow for a bit of anger.

Abhishek: To portray the discarded hubby of Rani was no easy task. But Abhishek mouthed his lines as well as the story/script would allow. Whether shy, reserved, sad or angry, this fellow's done a competent job. Remember the scene where he shyly asks Rani to attend his second wedding!!

4. The saving Grace

The only reason one can sit through the movie is the lack of all those sindur and mangalsutra ki saugandhs. Karan Johar could easily have had a few pativrata dialogues and milked them to their full potential, but thankfully he refrains. There is not a single dose of bharatiya nari-twa nor any spiel on her mahanta.

We are also spared from what (to me) seems to be the bane of Hindi cinema. The Karva Chauth spectacle. What began as an innocuous scene in those Jeetendra-Moushumi starrers, gradually grew in stature so that over the years (DDLJ and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) we saw the lady loves waiting for their men to hand them food and water to end the fast followed by a song and dance sequence. Of late this spectacle has assumed gargantuan proportions. Not content at being limited to mere fasting, moon spying and song and dance; it now threatens to become Bollywood's symbol and statement on home and "femly bhelues" as well. Recall K3G where Jaya's advice and tips to daughter-in-law Kajol are all about "femly" tradition (obviously the in-law femly...what after all is a femly!!!) giving you the uneasy feeling that the transformation (and commercialization) of Karva chauth into Bollywood's parampara flag is now complete.

But Karan Johar spares us that. And for this alone I am grateful.

Friday, January 12, 2007


"Children of the Alley" first appeared as a serial in Egypt's leading daily newspaper Al-Ahram in 1959-1960. It tells the story of a family patriarch and his sons, who represent religious figures. The patriarchal father represents God and his sons are various Islamic prophets, such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.

As the state-run newspaper ran the excerpts, a representative of President Gamal Abdel Nasser contacted Mahfouz and advised not to publish the work as a book because it might infuriate Al-Azhar, the Cairo institute that is the highest theological college in the Muslim Sunni world


The controversy emerged anew after the Nobel Committee issued a press release upon awarding Mahfouz the 1988 prize for literature. “Children of Gebelaawi” was one of five works the committee cited. At that time, according to Stewart’s introduction, President Hosni Mubarak let it be known that he would have liked to see the book published in Egypt, but with renewed opposition from Al-Azhar, the novelist himself “indicated that for the sake of peace he would not support publication.”

A more threatening twist developed just after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie in February 1989. In an interview published in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Qabas, Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdurrahman (now serving life imprisonment in the U.S.) was quoted as saying that if Mahfouz had been punished for his novel, Rushdie would not have dared to publish “The Satanic Verses.”

Undaunted, Mahfouz refused police protection and continued to go about his life as usual, remaining unscathed until one Friday night in 1994, when he was stabbed on a Cairo street. Thirteen men confessed under interrogation that they were trying to execute Sheikh Omar’s fatwa and were found guilty for the attack.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The wheel of Bollywoodi time

Hero's father, Pitaji, is informed of his son's romance. He summons the girl (heroine).

Pitaji: Ladki, mein nehi janta tuney mere bete par kya jadu chalaya hai, lekin ei samaj le ki tuj jaise ladki se woh kabhie pyar nehi kar sakta. Aur agar pyar kiya bhi to shaadi to kabhie nehi. Aur iske bawjudh agar woh shaadi karta hai to usey iss khandan ko chorna hoga, iss ghar to chorna hoga, uski zindagi barbad ho jayegi.

Heroine: Nehi Nehi..pitaji eisa na kahiye. Maine aapke bete se pyar kiya hai. Sachha pyar. Yeh sirf mera dil janta hai, yah mera bhagwan. Mein usey barbad nehi dekh sakti. Mein hi chali jati hoon. (note :all nehi-s to be uttered exclusively through nasal route)

Heroine leaves. Song follows, in the line of dil/sapna/zindagi toot gaya.


Cut to next decade
1960s:Hero brings girlfriend home to daddy.

Hero (introducing his gf): Pitaji yeh Sunita hai. Sunita pitaji ke charan chuo.
Sunita bends down to touch dad-in-law's charan. Dad steps back.

Dad (or Pitaji): Nehi, yeh hamare khandaan ki bahu nehi ho sakti.
Sunita sobbing so hard that a pail needs to be brought to hold tears.

Hero: Pitaji aap eisa nehi kar sakte. Sunita ke saath mera janam janam ka bandhan hai.

Pitaji: Janam ke bachhe.....nikal ja mere ghar se. Tuney hamare khandan ki izzat to mitti mein mila diya. Tere liye mere ghar mein, mere dil mein koi jagah nehi. Aaj se mein samjhunga ki mera koi beta tha hi nehi.

and next:
Hero (Suresh) brings girlfriend (Geeta) to mom.

Hero: Maa dekh mein aaj tere liye kya laya hoon.

Maa (coming out of the kitchen wiping hands on pallu of nice sari...er correction: if Nirupa Roy, sari torn and tattered): Kya hai beta.
Then sees the girl.

Hero: Geeta maa ke payer chuo.
Heroine (Geeta) moves toward Maa but Maa catches her before she bends.

Maa: Aare dekho to mera Suresh kise laya hai. Arre beta teri jagah mere charano mein nehin mere dil mein hai.

So saying hugs heroine, who now pretends to look shy, fails and so pulls pallu over her head.

Maa (looking lovingly at new acquisition): Lo mere sab arman purey ho gaye. aab to mere Suresh ka ghar baas jay to mein ganga naha loon. beti, aab to tu apna ghar sambhal hi le. mein to chali.

And next:
Heroine (Mala) and hero mein misunderstanding; fanned further by any arbit character (preferably heroine's dad). They almost break up. Enter hero's mom.

Mom (red eyed, obviously from crying): Beta, kisi tarah tu usey samjha buja ke le aa. Wohi is ghar ki laxmi hai.

Hero: Maa!!....woh mujshe pyar nehi karti.

Mom: Agar Mala ka dil kisi ke liye dhadka hai to sirf tere liye. Mein janti hoon beta, mein saab samajhti hoon. Akhir mein maa hoon. Ja tu usey le aa. Mera ashirwad tere saath hai.

Then taking off her bangle with a fluorish she says,
Aur usey yeh kangan bhi pehna dena. Isme iss ghar ka ashirwad hai.

And next:
Hero (Anil) and heroine meet hero's dad (pitaji).

Pitaji to heroine: Bete, Anil ne mujhe tumhare baare mein sab bata diya hai. Aaj sey tum iss parivar ka hissa ho. Ise apna hi ghar samjho. Aaj se iss ghar mein hi nehi, iss karobaar mein ki tumhara hissa hai.

Heroine (smiling coyly): Mujhe sirf aapka ashirwad chahiye pitaji, karobaar nehi.

Pitaji: Mujhe Pita kehti ho....aur itna bhi nehi samajhti ki ek baap ko haq hai apni beti ko bahut kuch dene ka.

Heroine rushes toward him and hugs him (who wouldn't if they were inheriting millions!)

Pitaji (looking heavenwards): Bhagwan tuney mujhe sirf ek beta diya tha par aaj mujhe apni beti bhi mil gayi.

Heroine (sobbing): Pitaji!!


Hero and heroine to each other:

Hum to khud hi dhoom macha sakte hai, who needs pitaji and mom!!!!

Monday, January 08, 2007


For those who can never picture Gandhiji or Bapu as anything other than a super thin, super frail man sitting at the charkha, and taking on the British Empire (all the while singing Vaishnava Jan), here is a book that does a better job of bringing out the man in flesh and blood than any of his earlier biographies did. Written by grandson Rajmohan Gandhi (son of Devdas Gandhi and Lakshmi Rajagopalachari [for Gandhi family tree click here] a scholar and professor of South Asian politics, the highlight of this new book is the long concealed romance between Gandhi and Tagore's niece, Sarala Devi Chaudhurani. A firebrand feminist and nationalist, Saraladevi played a very important role in furthering the cause of women's education in Bengal. Besides, she wrote extensively, edited several journals of the day and in 1910 founded Bharat Stree Mahamandal, the first women's organization in India.

Some excerpts about Saraladevi from Outlook

In 1905, in Bengal a year of tension over its partition, she married Rambhuj Dutt Chaudhuri of the Punjab, already twice a widower, and an Arya Samajist.This she did at the instance of her parents, who may have felt that in Lahore their daughter would be safe from the arm of Calcutta's police. At 33, Saraladevi was older than most brides of her time, and her husband apparently called her "the greatest shakti in India".
How much of her career between 1901 and 1919 was known to Gandhi is unclear. When visiting Lahore in 1909, (Henry) Polak [1] stayed in the home of Saraladevi and her husband (where many a visitor to Lahore was put up), but we do not know that Gandhi suggested this arrangement.
On October 27, 1919, within days of his arrival in Lahore, Gandhi would write to Anasuyaben in Ahmedabad: "Saraladevi's company is very endearing.
She looks after me very well." The following months saw a special relationship that Gandhi called "indefinable" after its character changed in June 1920. In between he had not only overcome his caution regarding exclusive relationships but even thought of a "spiritual marriage", whatever that may have meant, with Saraladevi.

It was by no means a mere physical tryst.

....at 47 her frame held no lure, to Gandhi she conveyed an aesthetic and political appeal around which Eros too might have lurked. Cultured in both Indian and Western terms, she wrote and spoke well and had, in Gandhi's view, a "melodious" singing voice. Politically, she could be imagined as embodying not only the prestige of a Tagore connection but also the spirit of the presidency of Bengal, and, in addition, the strand of violence in India's freedom effort. A merger with her might bring him closer to winning all of India to satyagraha. Whether or not he consciously toyed with such considerations, they probably influenced him.

Why then was Gandhi so enamoured of or taken by her?

Another element may also have been at work: perhaps this "endearing" woman and aesthete who "looked after" him "very well" gave Gandhi an emotional support that he, a man who in his world was always on the give, seldom received but always needed, whether or not he or others in his circle of followers and associates recognised the need. The supremely self-assured founder and general of satyagraha carried more aches in his bosom than he or those around him realised, and if India and truth spoke to him, so did his very human, if also greatly subjugated, self.

But why lay the facts bare now? Why expose the secret affair decades later? What does this do to Bapu's image. Says Rajmohan,

After the detailed account presented in Mohandas, I expect many to recognise that the episode actually enhances Gandhi. Not only will people feel closer to him in his humanity, they will admire him the more, for it is nobler to fight great battles when temptations tug at you.

Of the hurt and pain in portraying Gandhi

Thrills and hurts marked the journey. Often I cried in pain, shedding actual tears, for example when facing Gandhi’s seeming sternness with Kasturba and their sons. At other times I literally shot my fist into the air with excitement. These moments of wonderment outnumbered the moments of pain. As when I found in a 23-year-old Mohandas in South Africa a mastery of tactics on top of a firmness of resolve. Or when, at 27, he faced with cool courage a white mob that wanted to lynch him in Durban. And when at 40, while on a ship from England to South Africa, he penned a winning strategy for India’s liberty, and again when, five years later, he sailed for India with a perfect confidence that he would implement that strategy.

Hmmm, great men and their feet of clay!!!

Monday, January 01, 2007

in random order

1. The God Delusion- Richard Dawkins
Scientist, biologist, champion of evolution, Richard Dawkins has, since the last three decades, showcased the concept of scientific reductionism for the general reader. In book after book, starting from his Selfish Gene, Unweaving the Rainbow, Blind Watchmaker and the last offering The Ancestor's Tale , he has sought to explain natural selection and evolution and of how natural selection works through genes and leads to evolution.
In his latest work, Dawkins calls god a delusion, and religion a virus. A delusion that billions believe in despite a total lack of evidence. And a virus that has and will continue to have negative connotations in the form of violence and religious unrest. Don't miss this superb read.

2. Breaking the spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon
-Daniel C. Dennett

Another book that asks us to jettison religion? Not quite. Daniel Dennett takes a very rational and scientific approach analyzing the demand and requirement for religion and how religious behavior is also a phenomenon that needs to be studied and understood dispassionately.

3. The Lighthouse- P. D. James
Whodunnits have ceased to be my cup of tea. Unless the words flow from the pen of P.D. James. As anyone who's read her A Time To be In Earnest will testify, her work evokes the wonderful charm of a long bygone era of classical England. The world of fine taste in dining and music, of lovely autumns, and of summer houses in Scottish coasts. And then there is her charming Scotland Yard detectice Commander Adam Dalgliesh. Here she has Adam teaming up with Inspector Kate Miskin and new recruit Benson-Smith to solve the murder of a renowned author on a reclusive island off the English coast. Making matters more complicated is the fact that Dalgliesh is now in love and has just proposed marriage to his lady. As he waits for her reply he also has the solving of a murder on his hands. Very entertaining.

4. Inheritance of Loss- Kiran Desai
Kiran Desai's booker winner work is going to be my all time favorite for years to come. Here's the review from The Hindu.

5. Absurdistan: A Novel- Gary Shteyngart
After the huge success of Shteyngart's Russian Debutante's handbook, it is wonderful to see him in form yet again with in this latest offering filled with sharp, glib humor and satire. Absurdistan is a country being made in the sliver of land between Russia and Iran by Russian gangsters working for Golly Burton, a large America Corporation. To get the American government to pour billions of dollars into Absurdistan, these gangsters hatch a plan for war that misfires. At the heart of this hilarious plot is Misha Vainberg, son of the 1238th richest man in the world and product of the new Russian oligarchy. A comic drama full of caricatures, Shteyngart's prose is indeed a treat.

6. The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East- Sandy Tolan
In 1967 when Bashir knocked on the door of his home in Ramle in Israel, two decades after his family had fled from it, the door was opened by the new occupant Diana. Diana's family had arrived from Europe after the Holocaust and made Bashir's abandoned house their home. For Bashir, the house with the lemon tree in the backyard signifies the dispossession and rootlessness of his own people but for Diana it means acceptance, homecoming and nation building of a new country and society. On the basis of their shared home, Diana and Bashir, an Israeli and a Palestinian start a journey of friendship amidst all the strife and war of the Middle East. Based on conversations with the real people involved, Tolan shows how victory and defeat are faces of the same coin and how reconcilation is possible in the bleakest of moments.

7. Alentejo Blue- Monica Ali

8. Barefoot Contessa at Home- Ina Garten
Want to make your home comfy, your food appetizing and dinner setting charming? Want quick tips to entertain in style and on a budget? Know to make a grocery list? Or make beetroot salad in minutes? Or skewer delicious lamb kebabs on a bed of couscous? No sweat. Dash out for Ina Garten's book that shows you how to. Caesar Club sandwich, garlic coutons and many many more recipes that look divine. Gorgeous pictures and easy to follow instructions make this an absolute must for the kitchen.
Quick and easy never had so much style.

9. Blind Willow, Sleeping woman- Haruki Murakami
This review from Guardian says it infintely better than I could.

10. The Janissary Tree-Jason Goodwin
Since this is a random list, take no note of this book appearing at the bottom of the pile. In fact it was one of my top faves of the year. Goodwin, a Turkophile given to writing tomes on Ottoman emperors finally writes a beautiful piece of fiction set in Istanbul in 1836. The central character is Yashim, a stylish and dapper man, who is in fact a Court eunuch. Yashim works as a detective for the Empire and is summoned when a young officer of the westernised New Guard is found dead in a pot with his face sliced off. As more officers go missing, Yashim searches desperately for clues among the harems, mosques and lanes and bylanes of the Palace and the city. Intermittently there are short escapades with a Russian beauty but our hero keeps his lust under check (he is after all a eunuch!!) by his reading and cooking. A great read, don't miss this one.