Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trust your Language, says Hywel Coleman

This is for those who think they can't climb the social ladder without the knowlege of English language

Ask any upwardly-mobile Indian what he dreams for his child and the answer would be, “Education in an English medium school.” Many parents think that education in English will ensure better job prospects for their children, and thus offer economic stability and social status. However, Hywel Coleman, who has edited the book, Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language, published by the British Council, says the findings indicate that studying the English language does not necessarily lead to development and progress.
Coleman, who was in Pune recently for a tête-à-tête over this compilation of 16 papers on the English language, says the dream of achieving success by learning English is not guided by reality. Hence the words ‘dreams’ and ‘realities’ in the title. Fifteen countries — six in Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and nine in Africa (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawai, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia) — were surveyed for this 386-page book.
Coleman, a Life Fellow of the University of Leeds, who is based in Indonesia, says that development cannot confine itself to economic progress. Health, education, and access to water and electricity should also be included in it. In this context, one wonders about the role and effectiveness of English in villages. “How can English help in reducing infant or maternal mortality rate? Wouldn’t mid-wives communicate more effectively with the would-be mothers in the local language instead of English?” he questions.
He admits that the English language plays a role in the economic development of a country, but it’s a limited one. He supports his argument by giving the example of booming economies of Japan, China and Korea, “where it’s not easy to find people who speak English.” Jamaicans, adds Coleman, speak only in English, but has anyone ever discussed the impact of their economy at the global level?
When told that speaking in fluent English is a prerequisite for securing jobs in India, Coleman replies that such advertisements work as an automatic filter for the recruitment agencies. “People who are not confident of their English-speaking abilities feel that the job isn’t for them.” Coleman points out that diffident English speakers — be it teachers or children — restrict their powers of expression and comprehension.
He adds that children who know the answers, but are afraid of speaking incorrect English don’t raise their hands in the class. If the children learn in their mother tongue or the local language, they would progress much better in schools.
He concludes on the note that the local languages and dialects have much to offer, and people should be proud of speaking in them. Of course, that doesn’t mean you close your mind against learning English.

A gifted reader

This is a story of Ajit Kunte, a cerebral palsy patient. He was quite fun and cheerful to talk to. I met him at the Ninth Pulotsav Tarunai festival.
His unaffected manners and cheerful demeanour succeed in taking attention away from his fists that are curled around crutches, which help him get up and walk a little unsteadily towards a chair — from where he reads out a story from Pu La Deshpande’s Maza Shatrupaksha. The occasion was the ninth ‘Pulotsav Tarunai’ held in memory of noted Marathi humourist, Pu La Deshpande, popularly known as Pu La.
Twentyfive-year-old Ajit Kunte, who was struck by cerebral palsy at birth, has overcome his disability to memorise and speak clearly. After a series of operations, Ajit regained control over his limbs and vision.
His love for the written word stems from when his parents used to read out books to him as a child. They would also play recordings of stories by Marathi writers like Pu La, V P Kale and D M Mirasdar, which further triggered his interest in reading.
Ask Ajit what his favourite story is and pat comes the reply, “Antu Barva by Pu La.” It’s only recently that Ajit has started participating in Katha-Kathan (story-telling) programmes.
My first Katha-Kathan programme was at Va Pu Kale Smriti Pratishthan in 2007, where I won the jury’s award. The next year, I bagged the third prize in the same competition, and in 2010, I won the first prize,” beams Ajit.
His mother, Madhavi, who had approached the organisers with a request to allow Ajit to participate in the competition, says, “I don’t expect Ajit to win. I just want him to gain exposure and mingle among people.”
Therefore, Ajit participates in several competitions that encourage reading and retelling of stories. The youngster who was diagnosed as mentally retarded at birth, has a keen ear for music besides reading. He can spend hours listening to songs and poring over books. Of course, he requires more time to finish reading books, but that doesn’t deter him from picking up big tomes. At present, he is fascinated by Balasaheb Purandare’s works on Shivaji.
Ajit’s parents, who are visibly proud of him, fuss over him without being overprotective. In fact, it’s very important for them that Ajit leads an independent life. They are helping him prepare for the SSC examination through the National Institute of Open Schooling. He has studied till standard VI in a special school.
Ajit travels alone to and fro in an autorickshaw to the plastic moulding workshop in Shivajinagar where he works. He has also learnt how to use the computer and cellphone. Moreover, he puts those around him completely at ease with his relaxed and positive attitude towards life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


This is a short story I wrote for the Diwali issue.

Reva smiled a “secret” smile. The “mean girls” won't know what hit them.
She knocked politely on the door. The knock was drowned in the sound of laughter and giggles coming from inside the room. Someone cried out, “ are priceless. What happened next?”
Reva knocked again. More giggles. Reva knocked a little loudly for the third time.
This time someone said, “Someone at the door, do you think?”
You sure...I didn't hear anything,” said Shweta.
Must be that pesky sister of yours,” someone added as Shweta got up from the bed to unbolt the door.
But before she could pull back the bolt, there was an earth-shattering RATATATATTAT for three times in a row.
Shweta jumped back in fright, while her friends screamed, “REVA...WHAT THE HELL?”
Reva giggled quietly and knocked on the door again.
The door opened and ignoring Shweta's and her friends murderous looks, Reva walked into the room like a cool cat.
Nice earrings, Amrita di,” Reva called out as she went to her table.
What do you want, Reva?” Shweta asked. “We are busy completing our project here.”
Oh Di...I also have to complete a project on History. On Harrappan valley civilisation. Will you help me please?” Reva pleaded.
Not now..Reva. We have to finish our group project,” said Sheweta.
Before Reva could reply, Kajal di butted in, “ need to polish those grey cells a bit. And, hurry up with those books.”
Reva smiled sweetly, “Thanks Kajal di. I will be out in a minute.”
She started rummaging through her books, pens and pencils while others looked at Reva
and then at each other.
Like all younger sisters, Reva was a tag-along-kind. Always wanting to follow around, listen in her elder sister's talk with her friends and then spilling out the information innocently at the dining table. No wonder Shweta and her friends wanted to wring her neck.
Just like Reva to interrupt us,” Shalu murmured.
She was itching to complete the latest goss about the cool dude in college, but knowing Reva's loose tongue, hugged the secret to herself.
Reva knew that there was something on...she could feel the suppressed excitement, so she settled comfortably on the bed, stacking books and chart papers, searching for markers and pencils.
The girls looked at Shweta with raised eye-brows.
Reva...why don't you go in Dad's study? We have already begun on our project here. I will help carry your books and charts,” Shweta said.
Oh Di! Thanks so much. Here are the books,” she pushed the pile into Shweta's hands.
There was a collective sigh of relief when Reva went out of the room.
Shweta came back quickly and securely locked the door.
Ah...Shalu...begin,” she said.
Soon they were giggling as before. When the giggles lessened, they heard a knock on the door.
Who is this?” cried out irritaed Shweta.'s me. I am sorry, but...” the door opened and Reva entered the room with downcast eyes.
Shweta Di... I seem to have misplaced my red marker. Can I borrow yours, pleeeeeeeeease?” she continued with downcast eyes.
Kajal grabbed markers – in red, green, black and orange colours – and thrust them in Reva's hands, “Off with you now Reva.”
Reva took the pens and when she reached the door, turned around with a jaunty smile and said, “Blue nail paint doesn't go with the red blouse Kajal Di. How come you are wearing flats Kajal Di? You are not going out with Rohit Da today?”
Kajal rushed at Reva with “You....eavesdropping kid. Wait and I will show you.” But Reva had already sped away to the safety of her study.
Kajal turned to Shweta, “She is a wretch. Do something about her.”
Reva, meanwhile, was falling from the bed with an awful stitch in her sides.
After sometime she heard sound of the girls clearing away their drawing boards etc.
Reva hung around the door till she heard Shalu say, “Kajal...will Geetu be there at your place?”
That's all that Reva wanted to hear.
She sped away to the telephone connection in her parents bedroom.'s me,” she squealed into the phone. “It's your chance for revenge. All the Best.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

First Ladies of the Raj

By: Penny and Roger Beaumont
Publisher:  Jaico
Pages: 388
Price: Rs 395

After reading this book, you will realise how brief were the History lessons that they taught in schools. Well, this book isn’t exactly an objective portrayal of the British rule in India; it mainly paints the picture of the Empire’s colony as seen by the Vicereines of British India. But you do get a peek — often repetitive — of the happenings, pomp and splendour in the Government House (later known as the Viceroy’s House), and the lives of its occupants, through the book’s eight chapters.
These chapters talk about the Vicereines, their views and apprehensions about ruling the colony, their devotion to their husbands and children, and of course, about their subjects, especially the quick-to-judge British and Anglo-Indian societies. The book reveals how the lives of the Vicereines were often lonesome. That was a price they had to pay to be the invisible Empresses of the Raj.
The book’s mainstay is the private diaries of the Vicereines, the letters they exchanged with their families, the gushing media reports and the private accounts of their staff. The language, especially the quotes expressing the views of the respective Vicereines, is very plain. The accompanying paragraphs that explain the context are very long and repetitive, and do not really throw any light on the situation described.
What sets the book apart from the History lessons in school and the contemporary books on Raj, is its focus on the most unlikely (or long forgotten) Vicereines: Hariot Dufferin and Mary Curzon among others. Of course the book doesn’t neglect Lady Edwina Mountbatten whose role during India’s independence and the Partition, and her perceived relationship with prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru have been discussed.
Hariot Dufferin was the first Vicereine to push for changes in the medical health of Indian women. She utilised the Countess of Dufferin’s Fund to provide medical facilites to women in India. Her initiative led to many other Vicereines pitching in for various causes. Vicereine Doreen Linlithgow’s legacy was to eradicate tuberculosis which was then widespread throughout India.
Several of the Vicereines were not popular: Mary Curzon wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by the British and Anglo-Indian societies. An American-born, she wasn’t considered as "one of us" by the British society in India. Similarly, Vicereine Marie Willingdon’s interference in architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens’s plans for the new Viceroy’s House in Delhi (now the Rashtrapati Bhavan) frustrated the architect. Lutyen was ready to throw in his hat because of Vicereine Willingdon’s "very brusque and rude behaviour." Her successor, Vicereine Linlithgow, however, decided to endorse Lutyen’s design.
The book also offers many unknown or forgotten nuggets, like how Simla was despised by almost all the Vicereines. It was only after the Vicereines took up several charitable causes that Simla’s "fast" and "racy" reputation became more "appropriate." On the whole, this book is informative.

Did this book review last month.

Invisible Empresses of the Raj

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Total Recall with Dr Malati Shendge

Did this story for the Sunday supplement


For Dr Malati Shendge, life has been an ongoing intellectual exploration. For almost five decades now, research has been an integral part of this scholar’s life. The city-based Indologist, who has been associated with various academic institutes in India and abroad, is a Ph.D in Buddist Tantrism and now claims to have deciphered the Harappan script.

Campus calling

“I was sitting in the B J Wadia Library of Fergusson College, poring over my notes, when suddenly the thought came from nowhere. ‘I should do research’!” No wonder the place is special to her. “I did my BA in English Literature in Fergusson College from 1951-55. I had no clue what research meant and how one was supposed to conduct it. I then approached my mentor, Dr Rangdatta Vadekar, Head of Sanskrit Department, for guidance. He suggested that I should conduct research in the Harappan civilisation,” she recalls.
Overwhelmed by the advice, she however chose to follow her insclination. “I told him that I would do research in Buddhist Tantrism instead. Although, I was a student of English Literature, I was curious about this subject and I decided to do my MA in it from Pune University,” says Shendge.
Being a research scholar meant that Shendge was neck deep into books, but she did occasionally glance up to appreciate the world around her. She remembers, “ There was a canal passing through the college. It was considered to be the romantic spot of the campus. Now, the canal has been filled up.”
Shendge also recalls an old Banyan tree, which towered over the library. “We used to walk under that tree. I think it was struck down by lightning,” she adds.
As Shendge got deeper into her research, she lost touch with her peers. “In the ’50s, there were not too many women students. Most of them left the course mid-way. I had a friend, Usha Parasnis, who was with me till Inter-BA. We drifted apart and it took some 50 years for us to meet again! We met in 2001 at the lecture series held in memory of Dr Vadekar,” she says.

Vestiges of varsity

“I remember our bus stop was before, now what is called as the Main Building. I kept on thinking about food, while waiting for the bus. There was no canteen in the campus those days,” she remembers her days at the Pune university, where she did her post-graduation in Buddhist Tantrism.
It was followed by a Ph.D in the same subject from the Department of Buddhist Studies, Delhi University. “Thereafter, I won a scholarship to go to Tokyo to study esoteric Buddhism. There again I was the only lady student. In fact then Congress minister Dr Karan Singh, who had come on a visit to the city, was surprised to meet me.” Shendge says.
After returning to India, Shendge spent three years in International Institute of Advanced Studies in Simla. She then came back to Pune with no job in hand. In Pune, while she was studying Buddhist Tantrism, she realised that mythic figures like Asuras, Yakshas, Pisach, Gandharva and Rakshasas were not mythic figures. They were human beings - a fact mentioned in Rigveda. This in turn led her to study the Indus Valley Civilisation.
“Call it coincidence, but I had to study the Harappan and Mohenjo Daro. Just like Dr Vadekar had said,” says Shendge.

In Vadekar’s memory

Shendge is also closely associated with Dr Rangdatta Vadekar’s Centre for the Study of Indian Tradition, which she runs from home. The centre, founded in 1990 by his former students, was formed to dispel the thought that culture is equivalent to singing and dancing. It has organised various lectures on Buddhism, scientific aspects of Indian tradition, state of the culture under Shivaji’s rule etc. so far. Life, for Shendge, has surely come a full circle.

Postcard from Arunachal Pradesh

I came across this story which I did long back for the kids supplement.
Contrast these images.
Crowded Pune, big hoardings, cars, bikes zooming past, cell phones buzzing, malls teeming with life...with a village consisting of just 50 houses, narrow paths winding through jungles and no transportation. Even to visit an ailing relative in another village, one has to walk for one whole day!
In this particular instance, the village, we are talking about, is Punyabhumi in Changlang district in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s north-eastern state.
YB had an opportunity to meet 15-year-old Birurani Chakma, a student from Arunachal Pradesh, who is in Pune and get to know what life is like in that farflung state.
Comparing her village to Pune, 15-year-old Birurani Chakma says, “There is not even 1 per cent of Pune’s traffic in my village. It’s very quiet there. Roads are kaccha and we have to find our way through jungles. The sun sets very early and by 5.30 pm in the evening it’s completely dark,” she speaks to us in Hindi.
Birurani, who has scored 91.11% in her Std VII exam, is now on a visit to Pune with her host family. Birurani studied till Std IV in her village school. She along with her friend were the only girl students in a class of 11.
“In our village, girls have to do most of the work. We have to learn how to weave and do household work. That doesn’t leave us with much time for studying. Most girls fail and then they drop out of school,” continues Birurani.
Birurani, however, was lucky. Blessed with sharp brain, her parents sent her to Vishwa Bharati’s Chhatravas, in Haflong, Assam to study. It was a big leap for this girl from the Chakma tribe.
When she first arrived at Chhatravas, Birurani was at sea. There were so many girls belonging to different tribes - Jemi Naga, Dimasa - from the Seven Sisters (Seven North-Eastern states); their dialects were different. How was one supposed to communicate?
“It was very difficult initially,” Birurani laughs “I used to gesture wildly before I picked up Hindi.” Now, she is comfortable speaking both in Hindi and the dialect of Jemi Nagas.
Birurani wants to become a doctor when she grows up.
“Medical facilities are very poor in my village. There are very few doctors and they charge big fees. Most of the villagers can’t pay fees and hence they die without getting treatment. They mostly die of malaria.”
It is unthinkable to hear that Birurani has not met her parents and five other siblings for the last one and half year. “I have not gone home and neither has my family come to meet me. Its very far and they can’t spend so much on travel,” she says. “Sometimes my parents send me message through a villager who is coming to Haflong. I don’t write to them because they can’t read. My village doesn’t have a phone connection,” she adds. Her family and several other families staying in the far flung regions of the country earn Rs 1,000-1,500 in a complete year.
Birurani may belong to the so-called ‘primitive’ world, but she is completely at ease in an urban setting in Pune. She has yet not met many youngsters here, but is keen to know about our life.
Brought up on a stable non-vegetarian diet of pork, Birurani relished pithla-bhakri during her visit to Sinhagad Fort. While hills and jungles are not new to her, she saw the sea for the first time when she visited Juhu beach in Mumbai. She also treasured her memory to Nehru Science Centre.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Notes from a Mum to teenagers

I had been to this book launch and talked to the author.

Name: Crushes, Careers & Cellphones
Author: Manjiri Gokhale Joshi
Publisher: Vitasta
Price: Rs 199

When you are a kid, parents are “ancient”, and possible source of embarrassment before peers. Not that they try to understand you, but somehow they are unable to understand today's pace of life and “over-react.”
They fuss over your grades, participation in a play, praise you sky high before friends and relatives, while you squirm and wish they would stop...
Sometimes you try and tell them it's okay to go out with guys if you are a girl and with girls you are a guy. What's the big deal in hanging out together?
These and many more issues affecting today's kids and youngsters have been written by Manjiri Gokhale Joshi in her book, “Crushes, Career & Cellphones”.
Manjiri describes the book as, “Quick notes from a mum to a teenager.”
Before you make up your mind that this is another children's book talking down to kids, you are wrong. Teenagers across the world (Fifteen kids from Pune) have also contributed their views on what the Mum (Manjiri) to two daughters has written. So if you have the mother frowning upon the excessive usage of texting, pinging and being connected with friends at the dining table, the teenagers have the chance to air their side of the story in “From the teenagers' chatroom” section.
Besides light-hearted topics like “Big deal”, “Embarrassment” and “Achievement,” the book also talks about single parents, divorce and stepparent/stepchildren.
Children's books have often portrayed the stereotypical happy family: Mum, Dad and two kids. But, if you look around there are so many single mums, single dads, divorced or widows. They also do their best to give their child love of both mother and father and vice versa. Children brought up in such families are also happy. So I have tried to address these issues as well,” says Manjiri who is a step-parent.
The book's thrust is on telling the kids that, while their parents may not say it aloud, they want their sons and daughters to come back home if they have been in a problem - drugs alcohol or failure. Suicide isn't the answer, talking is.

Teenagers comment

1) Mum, Dad, please do not overreact if I go out with my best friend if he is a boy.
- Sanghamitra Shastri
Std IX, Delhi Public School

  1. It's okay to sleep over at a friend's place once in a while. And, I am old enough to walk down to the mall unescorted.
- Aishwarya Raj
Std XI, Nowrosjee Wadia College
  1. Ma, don't read my text messages and if you do, don't be surprised by its content. Don't pair me with my girl friends. They are friends who are girls.
- Adnan Shaikh
Std XI, Delhi Public School
  1. It's okay if parents flaunt our achievements. After all when we were young, we loved to boast about what toys or games we had. So what's the big deal if parents praised our minor achievements before their friends.
Virajas Kulkarni
Mass communication Student at Mithibai College

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Let them Be

This was written for the point of view coloumn.

I had always told myself that when I get older I am never going to spell the “g” word – generation gap or compare how it was when we were kids. I knew it sounded condescending and I hated when the adults uttered it, especially when the comparison was unfair. Yet, I found myself thinking on those adult lines.
I was meeting a group of ten-year-old girls, tweens as they are called now, as a part of an assignment. They all were smart, confident, chirpy and smiling. No trace of self-consciousness or inferiority complex and far too assured.
They knew exactly how they wanted to be captured on the camera with their dolls, designer bags, lips painted red, with a pout which would put Angelina Jolie to shame. All this at the age of 10.
I was amazed and aghast in turns to see the young adults/women, who are a representative of what the kids of today behave and think like. I had this terrible urge to take them by the shoulder and shake them and tell that “when I was your age....” Almost as soon as the thought popped in, I choked back on the words and of course the action. For once instead of rebuking the kids and dismissing them as vain, I tried to be fair - to their age and the times they are growing up in.
I know that girls of my age, when we were growing up, would have died to possess the adult hand bag or heels or apply nail paint. But, we weren't allowed to. “Act your age” was always dinned in to us. Plus add the fact that it wasn't exactly a consumerist era. No malls, no extravagant shopping trips; it wasn't a land of plenty then. So you grew up simply without frills and fancies – without any option.
Now that the malls and brands are coming to town can we shun them altogether? Can we disregard the abundance and raise the kids as they were in 70s and 80s? I don't think it would be wise. It's just not possible to go into a flashback mode.
A better idea would be to equip the kids with the effects of growing up too fast, to teach them the importance of money and to see beyond the trivialities of shopping in a mall. Let them grow without a stunted, myopic view of the two extremes: “I am celebrating my birthday at Pizza Hut” or “I don't celebrate my birthday. My mother says that we should always think of the poor, so we donate some money instead of a party.”
I would like to repeat the oft-heard catchphrase of the kids - “Let us be.”

Tech Family

Hubby is “wired” even while he's unwinding at home;
Daughter's Wii keeps her company in the loo;
Son surfs Net and plays video games to refresh himself;
Poor wifey! She is one of those homo sapiens, who inhale oxygen, while the rest of the family eat, breathe and sleep technology.
Welcome to the new Indian family.

Witching Hour
Shyamoli Arte pauses mid-way while talking and looks expectantly at the clock. On cue, her husband's phone buzzes with a text message. She sighs when her husband flips open the cellphone and then shuts it back after checking the sender's name.
I call it the “witching hour”. My husband's friend texts him ludicrous jokes at 11 pm. Every night. And yet my hubby has to reach out for the cell. His refrain is 'What if there's a message from my client?' I don't know what causes me more heartburn – A husband hugging cellphone to his ear for business calls or his insane friend who has a wrong timing,” fumes Shyamoli.

Playing “Office-Office”
Six months into marriage and Manjula Arvindan forgot she had a husband.
I married a non-fussy man. Every day he had a quick shower, a quick breakfast and then he was off to his work place. I had the entire day to laze around, to watch movies, to sleep, to shop. But, no one to speak with. In the evenings, he followed a similar routine: a quick shower, quick snack and then working on his laptop. I won't call him my husband, he was a flat-mate,” she remarked dryly.
Having made up her mind that she didn't want to share her life with a flat-mate, Manjula tried various ruses.
I nagged, I got angry, I shed a few tears. But, it was like water rolling of the duck's back; I didn't succeed,” says Manjula.
But taking up a job, and sitting next to her husband with her laptop working into the night seemed to do the trick.
Till that moment Arvindan hadn't registered his wife's presence, but he did notice a “colleague” working on a laptop. He's changed now. Arvindan does work at home, but he also reads books, and we go out more often now,” grins Manjula.

They breathe technology
Thirty five-year-old Sonia Vaidya was born with a phone. She's continuously yapping away to friends, families on her i-phone and updating her pictures, thoughts and ideas on the FB wall.
My husband checks i-tunes every five minutes as if he discovers a new album each time. He also keeps uploading music every five minutes. My nine-year-old daughter Anisha is obsessed with Nintendo and Wii. They accompany her when she goes to the loo. Technology and gadgets are essential to us, more important than oxygen,” says Sonia.
So isn't she ever jealous, angry or upset with the husband who prefers the gadget over her?
Well, when my husband ignores me for long, I ask him to “choose” - Choose between ipod or me. Of course, I know that after spending time with me he will go back to uploading music. I can't keep away from my phone for long either. In fact when there's special occasion, my husband and daughter want to know if I have uploaded it or tweeted it,” she beams.

Intruder in the Bedroom
A click of the TV switch alerts Swaty Sharma to her husband's presence. She pulls the bed cover over her face while her husband Manas settles down to watch TV.
It's like a reflex action. Upon entering their bedroom, Manas has to switch on the TV and is lulled to sleep with the idiot box chattering away in the background. Swaty, who can't sleep with the flickering light, lies quietly in the bed till Manas starts snoring. She then tip toes across the room and switches it off. She waits for couple of minutes to see if Manas's stirs. When he doesn't, she pulls the bed cover and nods off to sleep.

It's a Deal!
Simran Shetty and her husband have a pact.
My husband is a games addict and he can play for three to four hours at a stretch on week-ends. I am not an addict so I can't understand his fascination. So, we have decided that he can play with his toys when I am in the kitchen. But after I have finished with my kitchen duties, he has to stop playing,” she says.
Well, one problem has been sorted out. But, there are other issues too.
We share different tastes. I am a movie buff, and he likes to know what's happening around the world. We don't have a TV at home, so while I watch movies on my laptop, Ashish browses news websites. If we are at home on week-ends, we often sit next to each other with our laptops watching movies and news and talking to each other. Not chatting!,” says Simran.

PS: Dear Wives,
Do not despair. Insist on being the “apple” of your husband's eyes. Beat the machine at its game.

Dhoosar: First Cut

Suniti returns home after two years to find out that her mother doesn't recognise her.
That's the story in one line of Amol Palekar's soon to be released Marathi film, Dhoosar (Blurred).
Being a Palekar film, the expectation of the audience will be certainly high and the fact that it has bagged Maharashtra State Awards in three categories – Best Film, Best Direction and Best Music – ensures its critical success.
The cast and crew of Dhoosar - Reema Lagoo, Smita Tambe (Suniti), Upendra Limaye and Amruta Khanvilkar - were in the city at the launch of the film's website, The website was launched by ace shutterbug Gautam Rajadhyaksha.
The film revolves around Lagoo and Tambe, who play mother-daughter in the movie. Lagoo plays the role of Suhasini who suffers from Alzheimer.
Rajadhyaksha, who has previewed the movie, said that it was beautifully shot in a non-linear pattern punctuated with flashbacks and unfolding in present time. It shows the helplessness of the family members as the disease has no finality
Praising Lagoo's performance, Palekar says, “Reema has played mother to all the Khans in the industry, but as mother of Suniti in Dhoosar, she will stand out. Her performance is natural and subtle, so much so that she lost out on the Maharashtra State's Best Actress award for the film. The jury felt that 'Reema Lagoo hasn't acted at all' and unwittingly paid her the best compliment. I didn't want any of my actors to be 'over the top' or show that they could 'act'.”
Lagoo affirms Palekar's statement saying, “I have very few dialogues in the movie. Dhoosar is in the true sense a Chitrapat (Visual medium) and not a Bolpat (Talkie).”
Sandhya Gokhale, the script-writer and co-director of the film, said, “I took three weeks to write the script. I intended that the film shouldn't be a cliché tear-jerker and I hope I have succeeded.”
The movie also sees the return of Upendra Limaye in a Palekar film after a long gap. Limaye had earlier acted in Palekar's Bangarwadi.
Showering fulsome praise on Limaye, Palekar says, “Upendra is a very powerful, intense actor and a very dear friend of mine. I took almost seven years after Bangarwadi to cast him in Dhoosar. But he fit the role perfectly. With this performance, I am sure Upendra will endear himself to non-Marathi audience. His role in Dhoosar will be an important milestone in his career just like Jogwa was.”
Like Limaye, Kishore Kadam alias Soumitra has also returned in Palekar's film as a lyricist. Soumitra has penned four songs including a rock song (first time in Palekar's directorial venture) to the tune of Anand Modak's compositions. This is Modak and Soumitra's second film together with Palekar and Gokhale.

Perky Amruta in Palekar's Dhoosar

The perky Amruta Khanvilkar is the surprise package in Amol Palekar's Dhoosar.
Considering her pretty, glamourous image and Palekar's sensitive, social themes, one wonders if the twain will match.
Of course,” shoots back Amruta. “I'm playing a small but important role of Karla, who is the girl friend of Upendra sir's (Limaye) character in the movie.”
Talking more about the role, Amruta says, “I am deeply in love with Arjun (Upendra's character). She wants him to settle in life and is always searching job/occupation for him. They meet Suhasini (Reema Lagoo) accidentally and sensing her helplessness, they move into her house as caregivers. Karla's character is positive to begin with, but when Arjun gets emotionally entangled with Suhasini and lets job opportunities pass by, she becomes resentful and breaks-up with him.”
Amruta says the character's blunt and practical outlook appealed to her and that's why she jumped at the chance to act in Dhoosar.
Of course I couldn't say no to Amol Palekar's movie. It shows his faith in me,” she smiles.
Palekar too is happy with Amruta's performance and says, “After this movie, Amruta will be known as an actress. It will help in shedding her 'vajle ki bara' image.”
We will know if Palekar's faith in Amruta isn't misplaced after the movie releases. But, Amruta is happy with the roles she has bagged and the way her career is shaping.
After Dhoosar, I have Abhay Sarpotdar's Satrangi Re in which I play a radio jockey. Then I have Sujay Dahake's Shala, based on Milind Bokil's novel by the same name. I have also acted in Zee TV's Zakaas,” says Amruta ticking of the list.
That's surely a lot of work on her plate. We wish her All the Best!

Pleasant shock for Smita

Smita Tambe had a pleasant shock one day prior to the shooting of Dhoosar. An actress, who was supposed to play the character role, suddenly found herself shooting for the lead role!
It was too good to be true. But IT'S TRUE and I am really thankful to Amol Palekar because Dhoosar is my first picture as a leading actor,” exults Smita.
As per the original casting plan, Smita was supposed to play the role of Karla (now played by Amruta Khanvilkar) while Mugdha Godse was to perform the role of Suniti, daughter to Reema Lagoo's Suhasini. But after the first script reading session, Smita got a call from Palekar that she is going to play Suniti.
Smita, who has earlier worked in Jogwa, says, “My role in the film is of a reactionary response. My mother has Alzheimer and I respond/react to it. I didn't study or read about Alzheimer because in the movie I am supposed to be clueless about what the disease is.”
Smita adds that acting in the film wasn't very tough because Palekar had a very clear vision about Suniti and how she was supposed to behave – eat, walk, talk and speak.
We had the corrected script a month in advance and we also had script reading sessions, discussions so we knew what lay in store. There was no confusion, no last-minute changes. Perhaps that resulted in our comfort level as actors,” she says.
Since the movie revolves around the mother-daughter it was essential that I shared a good relationship with my screen mother. I am very thankful to Reema tai who treated me like her daughter from the very first day.
Smita, who believes in playing meaty characters, already has her first Hindi movie lined up.
I am acting in Jaane Tu Ne Kya Kahi, my first Hindi film. I have also signed another Hindi film. It's a big-budget one, but I can't reveal the details,” she grins.
So will Hindi cinema be her first preference from now?
“Language is no barrier, only roles matter,” concludes Smita.

Sushama Datar on Saath-Saath

  1. How does Saath-Saath inculcate the structured and conscious approach towards marriage?
    Let me begin by saying that Saath-Saath doesn't promote love marriages amongst its members. Nor does it advocate kande-pohe type of arranged marriages. It takes the middle path where the boys and girls are provided with a platform to meet, interact, understand and weigh the pros and cons of being married.
    We organise picnics, get-togethers where the members meet in an informal atmosphere and play several games which reflect their thought-process and social inclination. We also hold lecture sessions like money/investment, career, health and success stories.
    We want the boys and girls at Saath-Saath to come to the big decision - “He is the one I want to get married to” - the volunteers are just the facilitators.
  2. What are the “trends” in the present-day marriages?
    If we look at the big picture, the trends or expectations have remained the same to a large extent. Girls want husbands with bigger pay packet, while boys are unwilling to look beyond “fair and lovely” stereotypes.
    I remember being approached by a 32-year-old good-looking, educated young man doing well professionally. He confessed that he had a block against plain-looking girls. I told him, “Looks aren't everything” to which he retorted, “But, what if I am repulsed by her body/physique? Physical relations are important too.” He had a point. So I had to try other ways like, “becoming friends, interacting with the girls and asking himself if he could see beyond their physical looks.”
    Then, there's the question of inter-caste weddings. There have been few instances at Saath-Saath where Brahmin-Maratha weddings have taken place; they are not readily accepted by the society
  3. Can you elaborate on the role-play of boys and girls vis-a-vis marriage?
    Girls are open and willing to explore maybe because that's the way they have been brought up for centuries. Men live in a cocoon, unless they have working mothers and therefore take on some household duties. Otherwise it has to be dinned into them that after marriage there will arise a situation when they have to accompany their wives to the market to buy vegetables or sometimes be expected to change the bedsheets.
    Therefore, we have role-playing sessions at Saath-Saath where the men and women are made to act out certain situations. It sounds like intellectualising marriage, but it does make some men and women think about life post-wedding.
  4. The economics of getting and leading a marriage is known better. What about the health issue?
    Health is an important issue because so many late marriages are taking place. The biological clock doesn't tick only for women, it ticks alarmingly for men too. Think of the stress and the effect it has on sperms! For the women it's the rising cases of Poly-cystic Ovarian Disorder.
    Also, there's a new phenomenon – DINS or Double Income No Sex. We have had a doctor talking on this topic. The couples are so tired and fatigued that there's no time for intimacy. Couples who work for long hours need to think about this.
    Another doctor has also urged prospective couples to undergo certain tests, including thalessemia and HIV+, before getting married. They are necessary for the health of the family – husband, wife and the unborn kid.
Saath-Saath was started by Vidya Bal, and her colleagues of Milun Sarya Jani magazine, in 1994. In 1999, the team decided to steer the organisation towards becoming Saath-Saath Vivah Abhyas Mandal from being just a marriage bureau.
Saath-Saath means co-existence in marriage and the tags of Vivah Abhyas Mandal (Marriage Study Circle) encourage boys and girls to learn how to handle marriage by adopting a structured and conscious approach.
The members meet every Sunday morning and Thursday evening at Marathwada Mitra Mandal College.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Understanding Tolerance

The Good Muslim
By Tahmima Anam

The year is 1971; Rehana Haque awaits the return of her son Sohail. So does Rehana’s daughter Maya; two of them bask in the optimism that the new nation, Bangladesh, offers. We find them in Tahmima Anam’s recent novel, The Good Muslim. Set in the 1970s and 1980s, it traces the after effects of the Liberation War, the hope, disillusionment and cynicism of citizens, and the two faces of religion, through the Haques.
The book begins in 1984 when ‘Muktijoddha’ Maya embarks on a train-ferry-train journey to return to Dhaka, to her Ammoo and brother Sohail. The changes in her beloved Bhaiyya, and in the country on the whole — which drove her to leave home and settle in Rajshahi up in the north to practise medicine — have now become the established norms in the household.
The book depicts on a personal level the two different paths chosen by the two siblings, which is also a reflection on the struggle of going back to the pre-war dreams of building a secular and democratic nation.
Upon learning that Bhaiyya has now become Huzoor, or a leader of a religious community, Maya’s mind goes back to the early days of the independence when Sohail had returned from the war. The novel, which uses the tool of flashback in one chapter and returns to the present in the next, slowly allows the readers a peek into Sohail’s troubled state and Maya’s inability to understand the anguish of her brother.
Written simply, the language succeeds in highlighting the biting anger and helplessness of Maya, the brooding Sohail and his mischievous son, Zaid. However, it is the character of Ammoo — intense, accepting and understanding, who chooses to air her views in few words and small gestures — that stays on with us after having finished reading the book.
Ammoo is the first one to realise that the war has taken its toll on Sohail and hence gives her son the ‘Book’ (Quran) to help him regain his peace of mind. But, when Sohail veers towards the path of religion, Ammoo unwillingly accepts the fact that her son is lost to her forever.
Maya, however, cannot digest the fact that her modern, liberal, secular and fun-loving Bhaiyya has chosen the path of religion. She tries her best to dissuade Sohail despite Ammoo’s warnings that she won’t succeed. It’s only when Maya encounters death does she realise Bhaiyya’s dilemma, guilt and pain. Although she continues on the path of idealism, Maya knows what drove Sohail to change and comes to term with his outlook.
Perhaps that’s what the author would like to suggest with the title of the book: a good Muslim is the one who tries to understand and be tolerant of someone who has made a different choice.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flight of Pigeons

I first saw the movie Junoon as a teenager and almost a decade later I read the novella – A Flight of Pigeons by Ruskin Bond – on which the film is based.
History was my favourite subject in the school and I found Junoon directed by Shyam Benegal interesting, but incomplete.
I was curious to know what happens to the Labadoors, Javed Khan's family and Lala Ramjimal after the English defeat the revolutionaries. I found the answers in the book.
The story is about the Labadoor family – Mariam, her daughter, Ruth, her aging mother, and cousins – who have to take shelter in the the home of their Hindu friend, Lala Ramjimal. It was the summer of 1857 and there was anger, animosity and hatred towards phirangi by the natives. The narrator of the story, Ruth tells us that her father and all their neighbours and friends were killed in the Shahjahanpur church by Indians. Yet, in the midst of all this hatred, the Labadoor family in hiding are showed kindness, respect and warmth, first by Lala and then by Javed Khan's family.
Javed Khan, along with his cousins, is one of the revolutionaries. And, yet he brings the Labadoor family from Lala's family. He does so because he is in love with Ruth.
The Pathan wants to marry the girl, while her mother, his wife, Firdaus and aunt are against the proposal. Ruth's fate is sealed when Mariam tells Javed that he could marry her daughter if the revolutionaries defeat the Britishers. Javed loses Delhi and consequently Ruth.
The book says that once the British rule was reestablished the Muslim noblemen who sided with the revolutionaries had their estates confiscated. The rebel leaders were either killed or brought to trial. Javed Khan is believed to have escaped to Nepal, while his family returned to Shahjahanpur once everything returned to normalcy. Lala Ramjimal settled down in Bareily, while the Labadoor's after a lot of travails reached Bharatpur, where Mariam's brother was stationed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Shaktiman in Marathi film

Mukesh Khanna aka Shaktiman, who's starring in his first Marathi film, Ardha Gangu Ardha Gondya, mouths dialogue “Maazi takat” - from the movie - flexing his muscles for effect.
Watch out for this dialogue. It will be on everyone's lips after the movie releases on May 27th,” Khanna, dressed in white shirt-trousers with a beige stole draped around his shoulders, tells Sakal Times.
Khanna, who is essaying the role of a municipal corporator, and has also produced the movie, says Ardha Gangu and Ardha Gondya is a tribute to Dada Kondke's brand of cinema.
Dada Kondke's entry in the movie is the hatke factor,” claims Khanna, while digging into butter roti, dal and subji.
Telling us briefly about the story, Khanna says, “Dada Kondke's atma is the guiding force for the “duplicate” actors who want to make it big in the film industry. There's a film within a film. Govinda is a struggling actor who makes it big towards the end with the help of Kondke and his mother's wishes.”
The relationship between mother and son is also a hook of the picture. Taking a leaf out of Kondke's life, where his mother couldn't see Kondke's success, in the film Govinda's mother's willpower permits her to bask in the son's glory.
Kondke's role has been performed by Pramod Nanawade, a close associate of the comedian.
The movie, which will be released first in Pune, will be later screened in other cities and towns depending on the initial response.
We have just two prints of the movie. We will first release it in Pune and then move to other areas. I want people of Sangli, Ichalkaranji to come and see it because they will identify with the aspiration, struggle and migration to Mumbai to fulfill dreams as depicted in the film,” says Khanna.
It is the “migration factor” that has prompted the popular TV star to open his first film institute, Shaktiman Film Institute, in Jaipur.
In our times, there was just one film institute in Pune and all the aspiring actors and directors would flock to FTII. I plan to open one acting/film institute in every city of the country so that the youngsters can study under their parents or guardian's supervision,” he says.
The creator of the original Indian superhero reveals that Shaktiman will soon be broadcast on television as an animated series.
Big Animation, a studio in Pune, is handling the animation part. I also hope to release the serial with 3D effects. We are shooting some episodes in that format. And, of course I also want to make a superhero film,” says Khanna.
Talking of his connect with children because of Shaktiman, Khanna says that he wants to form a corporation of children's films, which will produce movies for kids and also finance them.
When we asked him about Bhishma-pitah like role, Khanna says, “I don't want to grow my beard anymore. Most of the mythological roles require the actors to wear long hair and beard and I don't want to do it. So mythological roles are passe now. But, in case there's a good offer, I might consider it.”
He, however, seems excited about acting in his second Marathi film, which he refuses to name.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review

Name: Swayamvara
By: David Hair
Pages: 313
Publication: Penguin Books India

Rebirth and the evil force chasing the good souls is the theme of Swayamvara. How does it end? Predictably, with the good spirit's triumph over the evil force. But, almost 8000 years later from when the chase first started.
The Swayamvar is the second book in the “The Return of Ravana” series and since I haven't read the first one, I don't know what exactly happened in Mandore, where the story first begins with Aram Dhoop (Vikram Khandwani), Madan Shastri (Amanjeet), Darya (Deepika), Padma (Sunita Ashok) and Ravindra (Shiv Bakli).
What begins in Mandore continues in the 12th century Rajputana, Delhi, British India and 2010 Rajasthan, Mumbai and Delhi. Aram Dhoop and Madan Shastri keep meeting each other as Chand Barda and Prithviraj Chauhan and in modern day as Vikram Khandwani and Amanjeet. Darya is Prithviraj's Sanyogita and Amanjeet's Deepika. Padma meets Chand Barda as insane Gowaran and in 2010 is Sunita Ashok's whose hand Vikram tries to win in the reality TV's swayamvar.
In all the previous births, except the last one, Ravindra has defeated Vikram in his other avatars. Vikram, in all his rebirths, has tried to reunite Madan Shastri and Darya. Sometimes he has been lucky, while in most cases he was not successful.
In this janam too, he tries to woo Sunita to draw out Ravindra. He succeeds. But the chase doesn't end. Vikram, Amanjeet, Deepika and Sunita (who is alive in Rasita's body)
are now being chased by the police for the murder of Shiv Bakli and Sunita. That's the plot of the third book.
To go back to the second book, it can be an enjoyable read if you are a student of history and mythology. Historical events and characters are linked to the present day happenings like the reality TV and all the histrionics associated with it.
In addition to so many references to the past and the characters from the pichle janam, the author also throws in supernatural, demons, gore and macabre. While that may be still believable, I found it hard to digest that Vikram fells his enemy with arrows.
The entertaining bit, of the book, is the back stage happenings of the reality TV's swayamvar. References to the elimination round, fixing of the show, the newspapers lapping up the gossip fed to them and “milking” the moment are very accurate descriptions of the what we see on the television these days.
The book would have made a coherent reading if the author had tried to introduce less number of characters. Or read the books in series to make sense of them.

She Cycles Everywhere

Nirupama Bhave and her scooter were inseparable till the age of 52. A chance meeting with her husband's colleague, who cycled from his home in Pashan to his workplace at Wadia College, piqued her curiosity. Twelve years later, the 64-year-old feisty woman cycles everywhere – in the mountain passes of Leh-Ladakh, the southern coastline, desert of Rajasthan, Pune-Mumbai highway and of course on roads of Pune.
I rarely cycled in my school/college days as we lived at a short distance. Once I started working as a professor of Statistics and then Mathematics, the scooter was my preferred mode of travelling,” says Bhave.
Her first cycle rally was from Wagah border to Agra, a distance of 650 kms.
I had just joined Pune Cycle Pratisthan when I heard the members discussing about the cycle rally. I evinced interest in it the rally and started preparing for it by cycling to Bhor and Ranjangaon. During the rally, I was slow compared to others. But I managed to successfully complete the distance,” she reminisces.
Since then Bhave has cycled from Goa to Cochin, Jodhpur to Ahmedabad and from Chennai to Kanyakumari. This year, in January, she cycled to Madhya Pradesh.
In fact, last Sunday, she accompanied her nephew on cycle, from Pune to Dombivli.
It took us 11 hours to reach Dombivli. Now I have the confidence to cycle 150 kms in one day,” says Bhave, relishing the experience.
Looking at her fit, energetic and alert frame, one wonders about her exercise regimen.
I should thank my parents for my physique. But to maintain my fitness levels, I do pranayam and breathing exercises for 40 minutes. Then I climb Hanuman Tekadi followed by 45 minutes of gymming everyday,” she says.
Bhave, who was part of the Mt Everest expedition and has also participated in Enduro's amateur category five times, believes in the “Slow and Steady Wins the Race” mantra.
When I go on a cycle rally, the other members are younger to me by a decade or two. They obviously cycle ahead, but I meet them when they stop to catch their breath. I like cycling non-stop and to ensure that I match the rhythm of pedalling and breathing. When I realise I am getting tired, I push myself to cycle further for seven-eight kms,” she explains.
Bhave along with her friends is supporting the cause of cycle.
We approach families, who have unused cycles, to convince them to pass on the machine to those who need. Cycles should always be in use,” Bhave concludes on a firm note.


1) “Recently, I participated in rock climbing and rappelling at Tail Baila. I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience. My love for adventure sports grew and multiplied with cycling.”

2) “I drink lots of water to keep fit. I eat big portions when I participate in the cycling rally, because two hours of cycling aids in digestion and burning the calories.”

Interview with Lamat Hasan

Intro: In an e-mail interview with Ambika Shaligram, Lamat Hasan sheds light on the Pakistani society, what they think of us and the stereotypical images the neighbours have of each other

Box: Lamat Hasan and her husband are Indian Muslim journalists living in Pakistan. Lamat's husband has been posted in Islamabad while she is on a sabbatical. Their blog,, talks about the good, bad and the ugly side of our neighbour.

1) When did you move to Islamabad? And, when did you start blogging?
We moved to Islamabad in September 2007 after my husband was posted there. We wanted to start blogging about our experience of being Indian in Pakistan, which we think is unique, as soon as we had settled in. However, we ended up sitting on the idea for almost two years as we wanted to blog not just about the good, but also the bad and the ugly.

2) Did you have any stereotypical image of Pakistani society before your posting? Did it undergo any change after living there for sometime?
I had not imagined Pakistan to be a deeply conservative society with women being veiled and men sporting long beards, so I was not shocked to meet modern men and women from various walks of life. If there is was a Umme-Hassan (Principal of the notorious Jamia Hafsa/Lal Masjid), there was also a Veena Malik (BigBoss) in Pakistan. But what threw me off was when I first heard Pakistani Hindus and Christians referring to their festivals as “Eid” and their prayer as “namaaz”, a case of cultural assimilation, I suppose.
On a lighter note, the only thing that shook me up was when I noticed a bootlegger on our street and young girls and boys pulling up to buy alcohol in this Islamic Republic, which prohibits consumption of liquor.

3) How did they view Indian women? Did you have to try and break certain image mould or give them something to chew on?
Most of the Pakistani women are glued to the saas-bahu serials and think that their counterparts are extensions of those roles. So if you are married, you get asked - Where’s the sindoor? The ones with little exposure still believe that India is a land of Hindus and that Muslims are being crushed by the majority. We often end up telling them that there are more Muslims on the other side of the border and that we are doing well and they need not worry about us. We tell them we have had Muslim Presidents, our top actors are Muslims, one of the richest men is also a Muslim and that Muslims are excelling in every field.

4) Can you give us a brief idea about how Pakistani women live? What's their day like in terms of career and home-makers vis-a-vis Indian women?
I find that Indian women are more goal-driven and more rights-conscious. We also have pro-women laws that work to our advantage. Since India is a vibrant economy there are more avenues for women to prove their worth. Also, our man-woman roles are more dissolved. Pakistan is behind in this respect. When we do spot women in an odd profession (they have bus hostesses here) heads turn. Women cops are stared at, so are usher girls - something we are so used to in India.

5) Do you particularly admire Pakistani women? Can you mention names and the work they are doing?
In my blog, I have written about the Taseer sisters (Sara and Shehrbano) who kept the fire burning after their father, Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, was gunned down for opposing the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. The girls have been threatened on several occasions, yet they remain undaunted. Among the bigger names, I admire Mukhtaran Mai, who was ordered to be gang-raped by the village council because her 12-year-old brother had allegedly misbehaved with a woman of a superior tribe. Mukhtaran has fought against the system for years and just last week all but one of her rapists was let off by the Supreme Court. She was in tears, but she is not giving up yet!

6) Is there any movement or demand for women's reservation in Pakistani politics?
Reservation for women was introduced in 2002 and they comprise 20 percent of Parliamentarians. Yet there are some who have not taken advantage of the quota and contested elections on their steam. Hats off to them!

The Man, The Melody

I had reviewed this book for the Sunday supplement.

KL Saigal: The Definitive Biography
By: Pran Neville
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 211
Price: Rs 299
I haven’t heard KL Saigal sing. But, I have heard my mother humming two of his songs: the haunting lullaby — So ja rajkumari so ja and Ek bangla bane nyara. Whnever there were talks about favourite music composers and singer-actor, my mother’s generation swore by the modern-day Tansen’s voice. His repertoire was big: bhajans, ghazals, thumris and film songs. However, Kundan Lal Saigal’s greatest legacy was his rendition of Ghalib’s ghazals.
It is therefore with great interest that I began reading KL Saigal: The Definitive Biography by Pran Neville. The highlights of the book are: comprehensive list of Saigal’s songs, translations of his Urdu couplets, information about his mentors and associates at the New Theatres in Calcutta, his heroines, complete filmography and even the reviews published in Filmindia.
Although Saigal was a national icon in the 1930s and 1940s, there was an aura of mystery associated with him. There are no diary entries, no letters and just one interview to Jayathi, a Bengali magazine, where Saigal said: "I am not a singer. I can only be called a phraser. I have had no classical training except what I heard and remembered. I think of meaning of the words and wrap the tune around it."
This biography, which hopes to fill in the gap between his personal and professional life, doesn’t quite succeed. There are tidbits about his family life: his mother, Kesar Devi, an accomplished singer of bhajans, thought that Saigal had inherited love for singing from her. Chaman Puri (actor Amrish Puri’s brother) reminisces about "bhaisaab’s" culinary skills. His intimate circle of friends remember Saigal as an introvert and a modest man. But all of that doesn’t quite suffice to elaborate more on the man.
The book doesn’t have conclusive information about how he got his break with the New Theatres, the then leading production house of Calcutta. One version says that the late Pankaj Mullick heard Saigal’s audition at the Calcutta radio station. Mullick was so impressed that he recommended Saigal for the role in the New Theatres, Mohabbat ke Ansoo. Rai Chand Boral, music director at the New Theatres, met Saigal through Harish Chander Bali and was completely mesmerised by him. Boral then spoke to BN Sircar, the head of the production house, about employing Saigal.
It was known that "gane ka badshah’s" drinking habit had hastened his death in 1947. However, it’s not clear when he took to bottle. There are contradictions in the biography. In the chapter on Saigal’s Ghalib, the author says, "Saigal’s devotion to the bottle and a detachment from his own life and environment could be attributed to Ghalib’s influence on him. Both were gentlemen to the core and drank to stimulate their creative genius." However, in another chapter, there is a mention of Nitin Bose blaming himself for Saigal’s drinking habit. Bose and Saigal had shared a special affinity at the New Theatres and the former had said that he would always cast Saigal in his movies. However, when the role in both Hindi and Bengali version of Dhoop Chhaon was bagged by Pahari Sanyal, a heartbroken Saigal took his first drink, which later became a habit.
The biography’s biggest strength is that it succeeds in describing the aura of the times Saigal lived in: the transition from silent movies to talkies, singing girls, kotha culture, gramophone celebrities, the intellectually stimulating Calcutta and crassly commercial Bombay. This description is also the book’s weakness, because there is so much "period" information that you forget the book is on Saigal.

Byomkesh Babu is Back


I am thankful to the FB for this one instance. I am rarely interested in reading other people’s updates like "Click on this fortune cookie," to "Life sucks", and "Hey! My wife made the best paneer butter masala in the world". But this particular update had me jumping out of my chair: "Watched Byomkesh Bakshi on DD. Caught the first episode on Tuesday..."
I had missed the first episode of the Bengalee detective in action, but I have been glued to my television set every Tuesday from 10 pm. In fact I have even started updating my FB status to "Watching Byomkesh.." and even calling and texting friends who I know revel in the good old Doordarshan days.
I was eight or maybe nine when the series was first aired. Watching it after almost two decades, I can quickly point out the "old treatment" to the series: drab interiors and props, the plainly-dressed protagonists and dialogues delivered with low-key emotions. Basu Chatterjee had made the serial on a shoe-string budget. But who cares! It’s a real treat to see Byomkeshbabu with his "Watson", Ajit Banerjee, dressed simply in dhoti or pants (not trousers!), delivering dialogues with a straight face with little or no ear-shattering background music and no prominent "zoom-in" and "zoom-out" movements of the camera.
The biggest plus-point is that there are no commercial breaks. (Psst... maybe the advertisers haven’t caught on that there is a market for the old TV series. Whatever! It’s a blessing for the viewers though). With no major distractions, I can peacefully settle down to assist the detective in solving the cases with my helpful clues!
After watching the series, I have also come up with a cure for the "restless fingers syndrome". I don’t switch the channel/s, hence my fingers and the remote control panel get rest! It’s the same for another friend too, who "can’t even dream of" flicking channels during the tete-a-tete with the Bengalee detective.
The reason is because the less-pretentious and more realistic treatment really works. It focuses more on the story and lets the characters talk without any embellishments. Content is king! Think of other gems of the 1980s and 1990s like the He-Man!, Kacchi Dhoop, Oshin, Malgudi Days, Neev, Tamas, Phoolvanti and Kille ka Rahasya! They all had just one agenda: to tell a story. And, they told it well. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s was fun!
Maybe the DD should start rerun of all these serials. They can give the new soaps and reality shows a run for their money.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Let's love her

This was written for the "point of view"
Last week was “catching up time” with old friends. Some of us are already mothers were discussing the pros and cons of raising kids, taking the second chance and sabbatical from work. During the talks, we learnt that two more friends were blessed with daughters. We cheered at the thought of the newest addition to our tribe. Clap, clap! Someone joked if He had his finger pressed on the button for “girls,” (like the TV commercial), because suddenly all we knew were proud, beaming parents of chubby, cute, pink faced baby girls.
While others were chatting and laughing about “girl power,” I remember a spine-chilling conversation I had with another friend.
This friend had always dreamt of having lots of kids. So it was no surprise that she took the second chance after her first daughter turned three. This time around her family members wanted the “perfect family” -- husband, wife, one son and his sister. A second girl child didn't fit into their scheme of things. And, to ensure that they don't have another granddaughter, they pushed my friend to go in for the sex determination test, which is illegal. She just refused. We will have what we have, she said in a way everyone understood.
The family, which my friend is married into, is upper middle class and highly educated. So one wonders why such people should push for a “male heir.” Perhaps because the birth of a girl spells “loss” in the family balance sheet, while a boy maximises the profit. It sounds cold, calculating and cruel, but that's how life is for the girl child -- those who are lucky to complete the nine-month term in the womb and live to see this world. Of course, there are families which welcome the birth of daughters with joy and warmth, but they are far outnumbered by those which see the birth of girls as a “liability.” For them, sex determination is a practical way to get rid off the liability. Perhaps they don't see it as cruelty. But, who knows, how they might react if this test was applied to boys. They might cry hoarse, “cruelty cruelty.”
Don't get me wrong. Never make the boys the victims for female foeticide. But why not welcome both with equal love, warmth and bless them and prepare them for a wonderful life. Celebrate the birth without discriminating against a gender. Perhaps I am a bit too optimistic, but if all women say “No” to kill one of their very own, like my friend did, we will have more reasons to celebrate.

Butterfly at her Best

I wrote this review for the Sunday supplement.

Tender Hooks
By: Moni Mohsin
Pages: 250
Publisher: Random House India
Price: Rs 199

The first few lines of the book made me crack up: “You know Jonkers, na? Oho baba, what's happened to you? Everything you are forgetting. I think so you must have got sterile dementia. Like poor old Uncle Cock-up.”
Still chuckling I start reading again to giggle at few more gems and malapropisms: “I put on green contacts (blue is so past it) and my new Tom Fort red lipstick and now I am just looking like Angelina Jolly. But like her healthier, just slightly older sister. I know I shouldn't do my own praise, but facts are facts, no? Pity Janoo isn't Brad Pitts. But you can't have everything in life as Mother Rosario used to say at my convent school.”
Full of wit, wickedness and malapropisms, Tender Hooks continues from where The Diary of Social Butterfly left off. You get a hint of what is there in the chapter from the introductory lines which are in fact the newspaper headlines – from terror attack, to surveys about love marriages - covering the Pakistani society and polity.
In the sequel, the Butterfly has a dilemma – to find a bride for plain, bald, divorced and awkward, Jonkers, her cousin. Butterfly isn't excited at the prospect, but left with no choice she has to accompany Mummy and Aunty Pussy to weddings, dinners and teas at prospective in-laws families.
In between, these meetings, she also has her kittys and GTs (oho baba, get togethers) with the “rich, sophisty Lahoris”, and shopping for diamonds and badgering Janoo (her husband) to holiday in London or move to Dubai permanently.
Butterfly is the “socialist” type, while Janoo is the anti-socialist, zinda lash. Janoo, serious, intellectual, landed and Oxen (Oxford educated!) is the perfect counterfoil to scatter-brained, flitty and gossipy Butterfly.
Although, Janoo is the “thinker”, it's the Butterfly's seemingly, “ignorant” remarks that strike as sensible. For instance, when bomb are bursting everywhere in Lahore and Butterfly wants to move to Dubai, Janoo wonders what will she do there. The Butterfly answers, “Live.” Her encounter with the “beardo fundo” also shows that she is no weakling.
Of course, there are times when she thinks of her own fayda and moving up in the society and hence tries to push Jonkers into marrying powder pasha's dwarf daughter (she can go and stay in their London flat if the alliance is materialised). She tries to dissuade Jonkers from marrying Sana Raheem, who is the manger of a travel agency. The marriage won't get them any benefits. But in the end, Butterfly is convinced that Jonkers has made a right choice with Sana – just like Janoo and her – and hosts his wedding at their kothi.
The book ends with Butterfly relying on her “sick sense” to predict that Jonkers, Sana, Aunty Pussy and Uncle Cock-up will live happily. There might be a few fights first between bossy Aunty Pussy and not taking – it quietly type Sana, but they'll get along fine.

The Diary of Social Butterfly is a compilation of articles written by Moni Mohsin for Pakistani daily, Friday Times. The protagonist takes a detailed and wicked look at Pakistani high society – khandani Lahoris and paindu pastries.