Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hail George Orwell

In an age of politically correct writing, even gearing the subconscious in a politically correct mode of thought, George Orwell's writing reeks of candour to the best possible level of journalistic perfection.

While you may freely disagree with his views, you must read his essays, just to learn with what clarity and simplicity it is possible to put your thoughts across.

I have read, re-read, and plan to re-read his essays.

Last night, I found an amazing online collection of almost all his essays. Some, which I had not even heard of before. I feel it my duty to pass on the link here, and hope that at least few good readers here would find time to read this master wordsmith.

My favourites are Shooting an Elephant, A Hanging, Books v. Cigarettes, The Prevention of Literature, In Defence of English Cooking, Why I Write, Some Thoughts on the Common Toad. Even his critique on Gandhi is an interesting read. For that matter, each piece written by Orwell is special, sensitive without being overtly emotional. For example, Looking Back on the Spanish War.

The direct link of the entire list is this:

Orwell is worth investing time in.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cold spell rant

A bad cold has left me feeling miserable. This is not a worthy topic for blog space, I know, but just once in a while I allow myself to use the blog as a ranting machine. In my cold spells, the anger I otherwise keep under a tight tab slips out on its own. All my silent, rather acute Virgo criticisms effortlessly fly to target the cause of my irritation. Under normal circumstances, I am satisfied by speaking only when necessary, or when I feel like doing so, or with people who happen to be within one hand's distance provided my mood is right. Then, I don't need introductions or familiarity. For a brief five minutes, I might just catch you and share with you any thought that passes my mind at that moment, however ridiculous it may be. When this happens in office, I have seen that people frantically start scouting for some work to keep me occupied. For my quips can be quite random- I know, I know. :(

For example: The other day, my usual herbal soap was finished and I had to use the Dettol menthol body wash (the one which comes in a blue pack). People, don't ever, ever make the mistake of buying this product. It is one of the most ridiculous toilet items ever made. It's a yucky experience bathing with this psychedelic bluish gel. It's exactly like bathing with colgate gel toothpaste. If you don't take me seriously, and dare to try the Dettol bodywash, you shall remember my blog while trying to wash that horrible, artificial, cold, 'minty' sting off your body and bitterly regret not heeding to this cold-spell-rant.

A scribble which turned out to be what I see as a House-fly...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Learn while you can

It’s difficult to get good teachers, the real kinds.
Who, with their very passion, can make learning a joy. In their presence, syllabus escapes out of the boredom of books and starts dancing merrily about you. You catch all their words awestruck, sometimes not without a dumb reverence for which friends chide you. Many teachers shaped the course of my life in their own special ways. Like my aaji, or Fr., or Ishwarbhai or Joseph Pinto.

Of the two years I spent in Pune, I owe a lot to his teachings. Pinto has decided to take his experience beyond the restrictions of a classroom. He has started a blog where he intends to discuss what his students and friends wish him to. But he has a condition.

In his own words:
You will have to ask. As the good man says in the good book, "Ask and you shall Receive. Seek and you will Find. Knock and the Door shall be Opened."

Be it editing (how to write a crisp copy), features (typical blog material), reports (the nearly extinct species in newspapers today), or media ethics (a classmate declared journalism selfish- "I write about the ill and poor, get a byline and forget,” she fumed. Pinto called her to the dais, applauded her and talked about journalism activism) --- if you have a question related to journalism, drop in a comment on his blog, Against the tide.

Recalling my student days, Pinto thundered with a fanatic insistence on how words should be used and we wriggled uncomfortably initially. He was unpredictable in his insistence for accuracy. One day he would rip us apart while discussing reports- get furious on seeing any adjective or adverb thrown in a report. The next day, in a feature writing class, he would censor the staid language, lament the loss of imagination; the extinction of innovative adjectives to describe a situation. We thought the man a tad too eccentric when he insisted 'write it down' in response to any raised hand to answer a query. Here's a chance, for everyone to benefit from the expertise of a seasoned editor, a real teacher. Learn while you can.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cuisine, Celebrations and Communalism

Of late, fundamentalism- from all possible sides of the faith divide- has marred things- all over India and perhaps more specifically in the city and state I so much love. Bomb blasts in Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bangalore caused an unprecedented unease and cast a shadow on the Navratri, Durga puja and Eid celebrations. I wonder why mindsets cannot gel as easily as cuisine can.

I shall talk about Cuisine, Celebrations and Communalism, the things that occupy my mind more prominently at this point of time. However diverse be the faith we follow and the beliefs we believe, all of us converge at one single melting point without exception- food.

All our ambitions boil up to roti, kapda and makaan. For most readers here, the quest may not be so simplified and the march to luxury must have set quite high standards on all the three fronts. For example, I pay my house-help some INR 775/- per month and the cook another 700/-.We don’t bat our eyelids to spend the same amount- their entire month’s salary- on a single evening of eating out. It is precisely for this unfortunate divide, that each one of us needs to be truly grateful for the sumptuous food we can afford to eat.

I grew up to shouts of ‘don’t waste food’ from my Aaji. Her kitchen was, and still remains, an epitome of hygiene, economy and taste. ‘Eat what is made or go hungry’ was a common diktat. Her fanatic exactions have made us respect food even if we cannot measure up one-tenth to her standards or style. It is for her that my taste-buds are not fussy today. Saying no seems awkward and wasting means guilt.

My Aaji is an open-minded person. So while no one at home was allowed to cook non-veg, she didn’t stop us from trying out. ‘I feel it wrong to kill to eat when you have such abundant options. But the decision is yours,’ she says. Her disapproval is subtle and democratic. It is with such a background that I not only grew up to be a first rate foodie, but also tolerant and receptive to different cooking styles.

Like I learnt to appreciate the classic Malayalee cuisine at my friend’s place. I first tasted fish here under the watchful eye of my Baba. ‘What if the bone gets stuck in her throat. She eats way too fast,” he said and seriously believed. But aunty just laughed this out. She took the piece bits by bits and literally fed me my first mouthful of fish. Since then, be it Onam or Christmas, I would go there and hog away all the mallu preparations with glee.

Post Eid, I got to sample the most amazing bowl of sevaiyyas at the house of our Urdu teacher. I still remember the breath-taking taste of the spoonfuls of chicken biryani another Muslim classmate’s mother had made.

And how can I miss the kesar-dhoodh aaji boils to perfection for Kojagiri poornima? Or the diyas she makes out of chana-dal for the ‘Jeevti’ puja on the Friday of the Saavan month? Or the Pooran poli for Sankranti?

Cooking is a major part of all festivals and cooking is what has the potential to bring people from different walks of life in one happy union. When we can sample delicacies of different castes and communities with fervour, why can’t we be tolerant to the different modes of thought? Why are we bent on seeing things in black and white? Why is it that a viewpoint has the scope only to fall in two extreme categories today?

I am scared that the way things are going in India, a migrant in Mumbai would soon be forced to eat nothing but pithla bhaat and a north-Indian techie in Bangalore would have to learn and write in Kannada before he ventures out for a job. Only the masala dosa has become ubiquitous. It’s high time that familiarity leaves the boundaries of kitchen and paves way in the minds of people.

One can think right only with a full stomach. All of us here have the good fortune to eat without a worry for tomorrow’s ration. Let us all be a little more broadminded in wake of the recent spate of tension all over the country.

When the Parsi community first landed on a shore in Gujarat, they dissolved sugar in milk and said they would mix with the native population just as easily. The community has remained true to their symbolic word of promise. I suppose it can’t be that difficult for each one of us to follow suit.

-Gauri Gharpure

This article first saw light of the day on Internations, thanks to Hans' prompt kindness, and recently, on Sailaja's excellent food blog. Many thanks to both. If you like it enough, feel free to reproduce this article on your blog too...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Nano behind my house

The site chosen in Gujarat is as near as it can get to our home... When we shifted there some 15 years back, the area was fields and jungle, mango, mahua, jamun trees, hares, partridges and jackals and what not. We had a time of our lives for about a decade, but then, highways cut through, multiplexes came up, areas underwent a massive (and rather haphazard) construction spree. The face of Bopal changed. Farmers became millionaires overnight in the neighbouring areas and very slowly, a little grudgingly at first, we adjusted to the change that development brings.

I was jubilant when M messaged that Nano is now to be in Gujarat. Being in Kolkata though, this seemed the wrong emotion to express. People were still stung and sulky, and a beaming face was misfit. :D I don't know the nitty-gritties, but Baba's happy voice was enough for me start smiling.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Gentleman bids goodbye

Friday, October 3, 2008
Kolkata: It was in a rich baritone, with poise and dignity, that Ratan Tata announced the decision to move the Nano small cars' project out of West Bengal in a press conference post the meeting with the chief minister today evening. He was appreciative of CPI (M)'s breakneck efforts to retain the company in Singur but remained firm on his stance. He strived to assure one and all of no hard feelings, either with regards to the state infrastructure, its people or its governance.

In his farewell speech, Tata reiterated his dream to usher in industrialisation in the state. "We have taken a very regretful decision to move out. We came here two years ago attracted by the investor friendly policy of the current government. I personally had a great desire that this part of the country, that has been ignored, should be developed and we should be a part of that. I still exceedingly confirm that this is a very investor-friendly state. We are leaving not because of the governance, but because of the agitation of the Opposition led by Ms. Bannerjee. We continue to be bullish and enthusiastic about what can happen in West Bengal. I just hope that West Bengal can be the state of huge development and not a state which stands only for agitations, strikes, rallies," said Tata.

Asked why he did not accept the government's offer to provide foolproof security to ward off the agitators, his response was very unlike a baron who means nothing but business. "The meeting took a long time because he (the CM) was very persuasive in his desire that we not move. I had to explain to him that the well being of our employees and contractors happens to be my responsibility and that's something I cannot pass on to him. Unless there is a congenial environment, we cannot stay. Please understand also that you cannot run a pant with police protection," replied Tata.

When asked that wasn't the decision to move out against Tata's legacy, he crisply replied, "I am the wrong person to ask this. I am not leaving Bengal on a whim or a fancy. You better ask this to Ms. Bannerjee."

Tata's commitment to professional ethics and social responsibility is unparalleled. This post, may seem contradictory now. While the way land acquisitions are dealt with in the country are quite an issue of debate, for this one case, something has really gone amiss. Lord not propel leaders like Mamata Bannerjee to associate with issues as delicate as these.. Yes, leaving Bengal seems a sad, sad thing.