Saturday, June 24, 2017

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold!

My daughter would dub me Captain Obvious!

ISRO has done it again! Their latest satellite has gone up with appropriate fanfare, well deserved, as it travels along its pre-determined path with precision. This satellite will boost the capability of the Indian Armed Forces to keep a hawk’s eye on hostile territory. It will also give a fillip to vital areas of urban management and planning, crop maintenance, and provide high-resolution images of a world that persists in growing smaller, if not friendlier! This is ISRO’s sixth eye, as our scientists grow more professional and precise with every launch, creating moments of immense pride and honour for every Indian.
So, my daughter would dub me ‘Captain Obvious’. Why do I wax eloquent on a topic that is so in the public eye, one that needs no introduction? Of course, we puff out our chests and laud ourselves for the diligence and the dedication of our scientists.
Unfortunately, we tend to puff up our chests and vent our emotions on many other occasions as well, when things go up, and how!
Like the crime rate, which has been skyrocketing over the years in a society that prides itself on its ancient culture. And that is what our culture is – ancient! There seems very little evidence of that culture today, as basic instincts seem to override the basic tenets of decency.
Why else would we see myriad cases of crimes against women, the weak, the aged, children, even babies? If Delhi is known as the rape capital, shouldn’t it make us hang our heads in shame? If gang rapes occur with impunity across the country, even after a few rapists are given capital punishment, if babies are thrown out of moving vehicles, young girls are kidnapped and murdered and acid is thrown openly on girls’ faces by suitors spurned in love, what does that say about us as a society?
Road rage and unpleasantness are rampant on the streets, as vehicle drivers careen around crazily, causing a ripple effect as autos zigzag their way, competing with two wheelers that assume they could fit themselves in the eye of a needle. Invectives are heard everywhere, as drivers shake their fists at all and sundry, blowing their horns stridently especially if they are themselves in the wrong, offence being the best defence, after all. If one could draw a cartoon of a traffic jam, waves of intense rage and frustration could be seen hovering over every vehicle, as stress levels go ballistic. Is it any wonder that incidences of high blood pressure and stress levels have also gone up, like the aforesaid satellite, creating a country of ailing individuals, living on pills?
One topic that always causes tempers to rise meteorically is a most hallowed one – religion! As the goddess of dawn makes her gentle presence felt, her ears, and the ears of startled sleepers, are rudely assailed by loud, raucous music, blaring through loudspeakers placed where they can do the most harm. These are the handiwork of the over-zealous Good Samaritans who feel that it is their religious duty to cleanse the world of all other faiths. So bhajans, hymns and the azaan vie with one another, each trying to create a monopoly, as the moderate believers wish they could either go deaf or go abroad to escape this noise, much akin to the ancient Tower of Babel.
Today’s parents pull their hair out in handfuls at the exorbitant rise of fees in educational institutions. After they have paid up the tuition fees, there is a whole vista of departments that hold out their hands to loosen their purse strings further – lab fees, sports fees, maintenance funds, field trip expenses and the ubiquitous ‘miscellaneous’ charge when they have no worldly reason up their sleeves. No finishing school could finish their students off better!
Sadly, our children grow up watching all these anomalies, and their little mindsets which are like clean slates, get scribbled over with ideas that erase their innocence. Hence, we find youngsters out on the streets, pelting stones as they raise slogans at the tops of their voices, driving under the influence of liquor at speeds that go beyond their control, raging young Romeos who take the law into their own hands to punish and to brutalize, and monstrous juveniles who escape the clutches of the law by a mere whisker.
The common man is most affected by the escalating price rise of items of daily use. When onions get expensive, he makes do without them, and when chicken and mutton grow unaffordable, he does not dare to turn to beef, because the very mention of it could cause him to be lynched. The poor man has much to beef about, even otherwise.  
The Indian cricket team has to be on its toes constantly. If they lose a match, especially against a hostile neighbour, they are in danger of their homes being vandalized by groups of intruders who have done nothing in their lives, but watch cricket and violent movies. No wonder then that the latter consider themselves the keepers of the dignity of the nation, and rush in where decent folks fear to tread.
However, the unkindest cut of all comes when a man in uniform in the prime of his life is stoned to death by a mindless mob, for doing his duty, for providing security to those very elements who raise their voices against the fabric of our nation. Edgar Allen Poe talked sense when he said, “The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.”
The unfairly slain, of whom there is a long, poignant list, are hailed as martyrs and brave hearts, but these hollow words do nothing to dry the tears or appease the anguish in the hearts of those who love them. They end up as talking points on strident television news channels, with political parties milking their deaths for all they are worth. Babe Ruth it was who said, “Heroes get remembered but legends never die.”  
And finally, politicians are not good or bad; it is their thinking that makes them so. A section of them talk, long and loud, before elections, offering high-pitched promises and material sops to the blessed voter. But as a rather quirky proverb goes in Kerala, “As long as one is on the bridge, one is called Narayana; the moment one crosses it, he turns into Koorayana.” Likewise, once the elections are over and done with, the promises fly away in the wind in many a case, at least till the next elections come by.
I do wish and hope that the decibel levels will go down along with the intolerance, the bigotry, the racism, the injustice, the violence, the molestation, the mob fury and the corruption that exists today. Our forefathers warned us about Kali Yuga, when crime would rise and walk the streets, and I think we have reached its very abyss today. Now it is time that we started climbing back, surely and steadily, on to the high moral ground that beckons to us. It will be a steep ascent, but it is not impossible. This is possibly the most pessimistic article that I have ever written, and I do so with an ache in my heart, but I believe that we can reform, we can improve and we can regain the morality that we have allowed to slip away.
As the man with the beautiful soul, Dr. APJ Kalam eloquently said,
"If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher."
He went on to add, "Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. Where there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. Where there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. Where there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world."
May we have the strength of character to follow his wisdom and apply it in our lives and bring back harmony and order in our great country. This is the time to gird our loins so that we may have a safer tomorrow for generations to follow.

Let's all make the effort now!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Inimitable Chaos of Life

“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star”.

                                                                                Friedrich Nietzsche

Maliny Mohan has chosen to make chaos the hero of her maiden anthology titled ‘The Inimitable Chaos of Life’. Her fourteen stories bring to life most of the emotions known to mankind, each one exploring the depths of the very fountainhead of life. 

The love that a brother and sister share in the tender ‘Sara’ sets the tone for the tales that follow, as the reader settles down, all set to be shaken and stirred.

‘Metamorphosis’ talks about how even a hardened criminal can experience a change of heart in a world that is responsible for having made him what he is.

Anita and Abhay come alive in ‘Through the Kaleidoscope’, both caught in a web of misunderstanding. Anita felt that people influenced her in different ways. “Some made her smile, some made her cry” and some others reduced “her soul to grey powdered ash”. How does the past creep into her present through the “cluttered maze called love?”

A beautiful story that tugged at my heartstrings was ‘The Man at the Copy Shop’, the saga of Kavita, who aspires to be a writer, Kartik, the photostat man, and her manuscript that brings them together. They marry, have a baby, even as she remains engrossed in her writing, but the twist in the tale makes this one of the most meaningful stories in the collection.

‘Apartment No. 20’ has a similar feel, as the protagonist marries a man whom she does not love, but gradually gets to know him and love him. She is “an enclosed person, who liked her personal zone and who valued the moments of her life like little pieces of gems”. When life takes a chaotic turn, she takes comfort in the words of her husband. “There may be a degree of safety in predictability, but unpredictability sure leaves your senses enamoured of its magic.” Isn’t that exactly what happens in real life as well?

When one wrong step has dangerous repercussions in the future, all one can do is wait and watch in utter helplessness. This is the theme of ‘Second Chance’, where Kartik keeps “one awful secret” from his wife, one that veils an “ugly chapter in his life”. Sometimes, there is just no going back!

Two stories which have stayed in my mind are ‘Unsung Melody’ and ‘Wind Chimes in the Desert’. The former deals with the sorrow that comes when lovers do not “cut through the icing that cocoon(ed) their relationship” and instead “doubt(ed) the whispers” of their hearts.

‘Wind Chimes in the Desert’ (such a poetic title), is an intriguing tale couched in evocative language, which deals with the problem of dissociative amnesia. Rita strives to be there for her friend, Neena, who, having forgotten the nuances of her past, failed to “unveil the blanket of dilemma that cloaked her mind”. The narrative leaves you shaky, even as you wonder if a wrong and a right can cancel each other out.

Maliny Mohan is a talented writer with a feel for words. In the last story in the book, ‘For a Reason’, she could be talking about herself. “To fiddle with words, to blend them in the right amount, to sprinkle splendid surprises that would spew magic and ultimately win over the hearts of the readers had been her passion since she could remember.” For that is exactly what she does in each of her moving stories, almost seeming to echo the words of Tara Isis Gerris – “Within the Chaos Magic is found.”

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Just Me, The Sink & the Pot - Sudesna Ghosh

“Life sucks when you don’t look like everybody else.”

Pamela is half Bengali, half American, born of parents who clashed over a plate of spicy chicken tikka. The clash led to a storybook romance, and life could not have been rosier. However, the reality lies elsewhere.

Pamela is the quintessential fat girl, who goes through a large part of her life hating her appearance and just living with her repulsive fat self. Endowed with hazel eyes, long eyelashes and a slim but cute nose, she finds that all her attributes get swallowed up in the reality of her extra-large size. She has mastered the art of living the fat girl life, as she puts it. “Life was more about hiding the hugeness.”

Her mean sister, Mona, does little to boost her self-confidence, often siding with her detractors to poke fun at her. To add insult to injury, Mona is small and slim, having inherited “good genes from (our) parents and ancestors.”

To combat her loneliness, Pamela creates her own family and friends in the form of Ernie, with his orange head and googly eyes, who is as wise as he is lovable, Pumpkin, O Henry, Chimpu, Pookie, Pingu and Teddu, and bares her heart out to them in the privacy of her bedroom.

School life is no better as it is the slim girls like Reshmi and Aparna who are popular. Pamela is often derided or ignored, even as she longs to live the magical lives that her slimmer classmates enjoy. She dreams of scenarios from ‘Friends’ and ‘Sex and the City’, and despairs of ever finding a boy who would be interested in her. Sudesna Ghosh describes these episodes with wry, self-deprecating humour, as the dashing Ben, the shy, fat, girly-voiced Sumit and her very own miracle date Abhi, come into Pamela’s life for a while, and then leave her for various reasons.

In frustration, Pamela laments, “I never really understood why people make everything their business. From a pimple to your weight loss to your weight gain, people love to give their input even when you do not ask.”

The significance of the unusual title of the book becomes clear after Pamela goes as a teacher to Mona’s class on Teacher’s Day, and is laughed at and insulted.
“I hid in the bathroom to cry my heart out. I loved being alone. It was just me, the sink and the pot.” It was the one place of refuge that she found where she could vent out her emotions.

However, there is a big surprise waiting for Pamela at the end of the book, one which makes her feel vindicated. As she finally puts it, “I’m cool because I am different. It’s stupid to try to look like everybody else.”

Written in simple language, the book deals with the normal mood swings of an overweight young girl, highlighting various instances in which she is hurt every single day as she strives to be accepted in a society in which good looks are paramount. The chapter titles are as eye-catching as the title of the book. What is especially noteworthy is the way in which the author has brought out the insecurities of a young girl so consumed with hatred for her body that she suffers low self-esteem issues. This could be a story about you, me or just anybody.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Flights from my Terrace – Santosh Bakaya

Bliss was it in the dawn to be alive...

Santosh Bakaya’s latest offering, ‘Flights from my Terrace’, is replete with good humour, bonhomie and joie de vivre. Her book is divided into three sections, each of which can be seen as a treasure trove of memories that brighten our lives and irradiate our mundane existence.

Ms. Bakaya’s favourite spot in her home is her terrace, where she sits, completely at peace, as the birds warble around her. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, a winged chariot arrives to transport her into the depths of her memory. Even as she pens an elegy on the passing of a bygone era, she never fails to doff her hat to the invisible magician and the invisible painter waving their magic wand and wielding their paintbrushes to create breathtaking hues in the sky.

This talented writer obviously gets her wit and her passion for the written word from her father who “had a terrific sense of humour and a rapier wit.” She also talks with pride about her harmonious childhood, her parents being “the most compatible couple” who never belittled each other “by drowning their speaking with shrieking and squeaking.”

One does enjoy her volatile, sometimes angst-ridden dialogues with her spirited daughter, Iha, who berates her in good-humour at times, but rushes to take care of her when she is down in the dumps, or ill.  Ms. Bakaya ponders over when her little girl grew up.

“Just a few years back, she lay in her crib, lost in her own world, smiling to herself... now she gives me a withering look... in disgust, derision, impatience or whatever teenagers give their mothers when engrossed in texting, chatting, whatsapping, pinging and poking.”

Ms. Bakaya’s love for literature comes through in every nuance of her writing as she quotes liberally from her favourite poets and writers.  From Edward Lear’s endearing rhyme ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ to hilarious quotes from G K Chesterton, to Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Baudelaire, Walt Whitman, Thomas Gray, Longfellow, Shelley, Charles Dickens, Maya Angelou and the Bard himself, she knows them all intimately, and hence, is able to pick and choose, as one would a nosegay of vibrant flowers, in perfect harmony. Tagore and Kalidasa also find a mention.

Her love for her beloved Kashmir seeps from the pages as she describes the immense joy she felt when she went back home.

“The sounds of carefree laughter, of walnuts falling on the rooftops at the dead of the night.
Of the falling of autumn Chinar leaves, of crackling fire, of the rumble of my grandfather’s hookah, of melting snow...”

One can almost view the twinkle in the author’s eyes as she speaks of being a toddler “with my two front teeth shining, trying to compete with granny’s three teeth”, the giraffe on the cake ‘pighling’ (melting), and “the breadvala yelling with all the force a breadvala can muster (it was, after all, the question of earning his daily bread)."

One particular saga had me in splits, when a perky parrot or a cunning crow on the tree, decided to relieve itself on a certain mendicant’s tangled head.

“This had a profoundly unsettling effect on one, who just a couple of minutes back appeared to have eternally settled there... now the detached man was absolutely attached.”

The Birder’s Inn in Bharatpur is another haven for Ms. Bakaya. That she loves the feathered species is apparent, as she waxes poetic about garrulous parrots, purple sunbirds, snowy egrets, arrogant-looking crows and tiny sparrows, all serenading her with their “boisterous bird banter”.

This brings me to the wonderful examples of alliteration strewn across the book, as when they were “perennially drunk on a delicious cocktail of camaraderie, conspiracy, bonhomie and body shaking laughter.”Another brilliant example goes thus: “This colourfully, chaotic, confusion captivates me.”

Across the book, Ms. Bakaya comes across as “the mischief monger, the rabble rouser, the boisterous brat”, as she chuckles over “follically challenged people”. She is playful as she frolics with words, punctuating them with “grins, giggles and guffaws”. She sings along with Frank Sinatra (a Million Kinds of Stardust), Harry Belafonte, Don Mclean and the like. And as her eyes seek "newer landscapes in the darkness, hunting for the fireflies flitting around," it is not hard to fathom why, in Jamestown fishing village, a small boy in yellow knickers, ran to her with a breathtaking smile, and said, "I love you." For as she writes on, she comes across as an incorrigible optimist, with stars in her eyes, yearning to inject some insanity in the sane world around.

                                                              the hands make the world every day,
                                                              fire conjoins with steel.
                                                              linen, canvas and cotton arrive
                                                              from the scuffles in the laundries,
                                                              and from light a dove is born;
                                                                                                      Pablo  Neruda

Monday, June 5, 2017

His Christmas Delight

A Tale Like Summer Rain

When a writer with such a beautiful name as Summer(ita) Rhayne sets out to write a romance, she cannot but put her whole heart into it. So this little saga drizzles down on the readers’ sensibilities like summer rain, as gently and as softly.
There is a hint of mischief right at the start, when the slender, pixie-featured Myra,  sets out to help her dear friend, Chef Tonya, to purloin the Revengers Miniature Hologram game for her son, Toby, from no less than Santa himself.
It is at that moment that a figure from her past materializes. Jay Tolliver, the once gangly lad, and the smartest boy in their set, has returned to help his brother, Dan, to revive his toy store and restore the spirit of Christmas. His experiences have obviously made him older and wiser.
What is the baggage that the beleaguered Jay carries deep within his soul? What is the connection between him, the late Pete and the beautiful Myra? When he meets her after four years, why does he shy away from her friendship, even though they are attracted to each other?   
Summerita creates flesh and blood characters who are, thankfully, not perfect, but men and women who have been scarred by life. They are wary of love and run away from it. They are real people with ambitions within their heart, locked away because they have been made to feel inadequate by their loved ones. It is easy to empathize with them, even as the heart feels for them, and for their grief.
Finally, when love blooms, it is indeed, a Christmas delight which leaves the reader feeling warm and joyful.
In a world that has its own troubles, a sweet little romance like this “shines like a good deed in a weary world”.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Line of Inheritance by Tara Neelanjana

This saga could have been about any one of Kerala’s matrilineal families, so closely aligned are their histories, their daily lives, their customs, the festivals and the like. Author Tara Neelanjana traces the history of the big house, Puthanveedu, through the lives of its inhabitants, especially Sridevi, its last and ninth matriarch. The house, (a Nalukettu), built by Raman Unni Nair, a soldier of fortune, was situated along the banks of the overflowing river, Nila, which also played a vital role in the lives of its inhabitants. Ramunni was granted this vast property on its banks, a purse filled with gold coins, a silver sword and a silk crimson shawl. He would later bequeath it to his little sister, Unnimaya, who would be the matriarch.
The story is eloquently told, of Ramunni, the lenient and generous Karnavan (Patriarch), followed by his formidable and bad-tempered nephew, Raghavan, who commited a heinous crime. When the latter suffered a stroke, he was tended by his gentle brother, Bhaskaran, his own personal masseur.
Alongside is described the advent of the foreigners – the Dutch, French, Portuguese and British, and the Germans who establish their Mission  with a free primary school and dispensary.
Several generations live in Puthanveedu; Bhaskaran’s niece, Janaki, her perceptive and intelligent daughter, Meenakshi, and her independent minded son, Madhavan, who has words with his uncle and escapes to Malaysia, so that he can work in the rubber plantations and take care of his mother and siblings.
The book is interspersed with vivid descriptions of the various rites and rituals that go to make up the landscape of Kerala. It speaks of how the lower castes were treated, of sartorial changes as upper caste women, earlier bare-chested now wore loose blouses, or tied them in a knot below the bust, and of how large ear loops were prevalent at the time. Festivals like Onam, Thiruvathira and Vishu come alive before our eyes, as do descriptions of birth and death and the rituals of purification in both cases. There are also mentions of the Mappila (Muslim) revolution which had as its backdrop the Khilafat Movement, and was one of the darkest chapters in Malabar history.
The main women characters are strong, refusing to run away in times of adversity, be it Meenakshi, who stays on at Puthanveedu during times of turmoil, even when she and her mother, Daksha are left alone, with only a Muslim caretaker to tend to their needs. Her daughters, Meenu and Malu, go through their own travails, and it is Meenu’s daughter, Devi, who starts a school, with the help of her cousin Mohan, her brother in law who is ‘a man with a pure heart’, a true leader who dedicates his life to serve the people and fight against caste bigotry.
The book is populated with myriad characters, each playing his or her own part in the saga. Obviously some of them are not as well etched as the main protagonists. The book remains the story of Devi, her mother Daksha, her husband Rajan, and his brother, Mohan. She goes through agony when she loves and loses her beloved daughter, Giti, and almost loses Puthanveedu because of her detestable son in law, Pratap, who plays on her emotions through her love for her beloved grandson, Pritham.
Devi finally leaves Puthanveedu to her grandson, Pritham and his son, Manu, keeping aside a trust that would provide for the benevolent deity who had protected the family over centuries. “It was a paradox, she thought, that a stone Devi (Goddess) should have a continuity of tradition, whereas her own family traditions would cease to exist with the demise of the Devi of Puthanveedu.”
Tara Neelanjana has a flowing style reminiscent of the story tellers of yore, as she paints a vast canvas of characters, putting in deft touches to some, highlighting the others in bold colours. This is a book that should be read, if only to understand the growth and development of old Kerala tharavads (households), and the sweeping socio-economic changes that affected them.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Let’s nip this habit in the butt (ouch), oops, bud, I mean!

Life can get downright embarrassing when one’s tongue lets one down, and not gently at that. When I was a teenager, I remember walking up to two nose-up-in–the-air classmates, who spent much of their waking hours listening to Western music. I don’t even know why I did it; I guess I just wanted to show off, and so I spoke airily about a song that was all the rage at the time.
“Don’t you like ------? I think it’s an amazing number!” Their mouths fell open, and there was a trace of mockery in their eyes, which gave me a moment of discomfort. It was only later that I realized that I had made a complete ass of myself by mispronouncing the very name of the song. My cover was blown!

That was the day I decided that I would stop showing off.
That was also the day I realized that pronunciation rules.

I had always loved my books (blame that on my grandparents and my parents!) and I took up Literature in college, a period when words created music in my mind, a music that I could listen to for hours, till one wrong tone would jar my ears. Every time I heard the story of ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, I would wince, as the poor slow reptile’s name was mutilated every time. From a very young age, it had been dinned into me that ‘tortoise’ was to be pronounced as ‘tortis’ and that the extra ‘o’ had been put in to make life difficult.

Isn’t it amazing that the English language has so many words with redundant letters? The words ‘subtle’ and ‘indebted’ often go together, and you are often tempted to say, “B(e) silent, please!” What does it take to dumb down the ‘b’s in comb, dumb, tomb, bomb and plumber, (just think of Christopher Plummer!)? There is nothing that rattles the eardrums as when the said letter is tom-tommed in all its glory.

 ‘Receipt’ (ri/seet) and ‘colonel’ (ker/nel) should be shorn of their extra fittings, and there is a whole section of folks that roll their ‘r’s when they ‘ir/on’ their clothes.

You do need to mind your  ‘t’s when you go to a ‘restaurant’ and savour a ‘buffet’. I saw an interesting video in which a gentleman explained that there were three ways to pronounce the former. ‘Rest-ront’ (British), ‘rest-o-ront’ (American) and ‘rest-o-ron’ (French). And once you are there, you do not have ‘break/fast’ or ‘brayk/faast’, but ‘brek/fust’. Finally if you want to have a sweet (sweet) in your suite (sweet) dressed in a suit (soot), it is entirely up to you! You are the ‘connoisseur’, ‘con/uh/zur’, not the ‘conoee/sear’, after all!

Certain words have given me sleepless nights as well. For instance, all through my growing years, I abused the word ‘awry’, till I heard it on TV, and bit my tongue. My version was ‘aw/ry’, a far cry from the actual ‘a/wry’. Likewise, I had a bet with a good friend on how the word ‘ennui’ was to be pronounced. He called it ‘on/vi’ and I, with all the arrogance of youth, preferred to let it stay as ‘on/u/ai’. I lost the bet, and retained my friend, of course.

The list below has words found in novels read over the years, and often mispronounced as well.
1.      mischievous: mis/che/vus,  NOT mis/chee/vee/us
2.      nuptial: nup/shul, NOT nup/shoo/al
3.      extempore: ex/tem/puree, NOT ex/tem/pour
4.      cemetery: sem/e/tary, NOT symmetry
5.      nuisance: nyu/sens NOT noo/yee/sens
6.      chimera: kiy/meer/a, NOT chim/er/a
7.      banal: bun/ahl, NOT bay/nal
8.      heinous: hay/nus, NOT heen/i/us
9.      coupon: coop/on or cew/pon, NOT coop/un
10.  poignant: poi/nyant, NOT poig/nant

Did you know that teddies like ‘beer’? At least, it sounds as if they do, especially when folks call them ‘teddy beers’. However, the ‘bear’ in this case is actually pronounced as ‘bare’, and not ‘beer’ in a case. It is also uncommonly common to pull one’s hair out over common words like ‘hair’ and ‘heir’? The former is pronounced as ‘hare’, but ‘heir’ is pronounced as ‘air’, even if the said heir has a good mop of hair.

So, ‘sew’ is pronounced as ‘so’ or ‘sow’, and not as ‘sue’, which is a whole new word that is so widely used in today’s libellous world, and there is nothing anyone can do about it! Heard of chalk and cheese? Here are two words that are spelt one way and uttered totally differently, which is quite unpardonable. They are ‘ewe’ pronounced ‘you’, and ‘quay’ pronounced ‘key’. Why, but why would any language want to do that?

One word that is quite literally killed off is ‘corps’, meaning an organized group of people, especially in the Armed Forces. The word in its singular form is pronounced as ‘core’, and as ‘cores’ in its plural form. My heart breaks when I hear the word being mispronounced as ‘corpse’, because the Armed Forces don’t need that kind of labelling ever!

Certain endings are oh-so-confusing! While ‘league’ and ‘colleague’ are ‘leeg’ and ‘ko/leeg’, ‘ague’ is ‘ai/gyu’ and ‘dengue’ is ‘den/gi’. Maddening, aren’t they?

Literature has its own little words that are never what you want them to be.
Epitome: e/pi/tummy, NOT e/pi/tome
Hyperbole: hy/per/ba/lee, NOT hy/per/bowl
Plagiarism: play/ja/rism, NOT play/jee/a/rism
Genre: zhon/ruh, NOT jen/ner
There is plenty more from where these came from, but too much would be overkill, methinks!

Ironically, one word which I have heard pronounced and spelt wrong a lot is the word ‘pronunciation’ itself, as folks imagine an extra ‘o’ and go all out to pronounce it with gusto. The word is ‘pro/nun/ciation’, and not ‘pro/noun/ciation’, which is but a slip between the cup and the lip, but one which could leave egg on one’s face! And if I have offended any with my plain speaking, let me pour oil over troubled waters. Fred Astaire and Ginger Roberts could not have said it any better than in this delightful video (Let's Call This Whole Thing Off!) which you must absolutely watch! Cheers to a facile tongue!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Shot in the Dark

War loves to seek its victims in the young.

                                                                                                     Greek saying

A pall hung over like a grey curtain. People were on their way outside the main gate. The Cantonment was winding up for the day. Autumn leaves lay in heaps on the ground, freshly swept orange piles, as the security checks went on relentlessly. Things seemed peaceful, a bit too peaceful for Srinagar, a city prone to blasts and bloodshed. However, the cantonment was like a fortress... entering it meant going through a rigmarole of frisking, questioning and stringent checks. The men in green knew their jobs and went on with it like clockwork.

Suddenly the quiet of the evening was shattered by loud explosions. Since it was Diwali eve, it was assumed that fireworks were being let off. But there were people who realized that these were gunshots, and that they sounded very close by. The news spread like wildfire, as guards scrambled to warn people off the streets, “Hurry up and go home! There is firing going on!” No one waited to listen further. They took to their heels, and locked themselves up in their warm secure homes, worried about those who were out in the cold.

The story was out soon enough. Three militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba group had taken refuge in the Cantonment Board building right next to the main gate, waiting for the right chance to plunge in and attack. Showering bullets at the security guards at the gate, they clambered over the outer wall from the top of a bus, and charged into the first building they could find... the office of the Public Relations Officer. At the sound of the first gunshot, the PRO, Maj. Purushottam, who had three Kashmiri journalists with him at the moment, hurriedly pushed them into the bathroom, and picked up his telephone to inform security. The two armed ruffians crashed through the door, shooting haphazardly at every person they saw, killing as many as they hit. They found the PRO behind a sofa, trying to get his call through, and they shot at him point blank, injuring him fatally.

The whole Cantonment was in shock at the brutality and the futility of the incident. There were ten men lost in the shootout, and many more injured, for after the massacre, the two militants ran back and took refuge again in the Cantonment Board building. A couple of brave officers went after them and tried to get them out of their holes, first by cajoling and sympathising, then through promises and enticement. When those did not work, they resorted to firing, and in the process, they themselves suffered splinter injuries as the intruders lobbed grenades at them. Lady Luck was with them, however, and soon the two gunmen were dead. There was no trace of the third who was assumed to have been a lookout and seemed to have looked out and saved his own life at the opportune moment.

What is tragic in this case is the loss of lives of innocent people... those who contributed their mite by providing information to different media sources. The unkindest cut of all was that they were unarmed and defenceless, cut down in cold blood by hired assassins who were willing to sacrifice their own lives for a fanatical cause. It is in such situations that we realise the significance of the saying that ‘Man’s life is like a candle in the wind’. A puff can blow it away, leaving anguish and heartbreak in its wake.

What is done cannot be undone. However, security was stepped up further and all loopholes plugged as far as possible. After the Red Fort break in and the Srinagar Airport firing, things seem to be snowballing on us. Today as the Government waits for a positive reaction to the ceasefire that began during the month of Ramzan, the country stands with bated breath for a solution to the Kashmir crisis. But the truth is that as long as men take oaths to achieve their goals, courting even death in the bargain, it will be difficult to make a place absolutely impregnable. For it is the fear of death that makes a man retrace his steps, and when that fear is snuffed out of him, he becomes the deadliest weapon ever known. For then there is no stopping him ever! How true this is in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre buildings in the USA and the Indian Parliament. For this article was written when we were posted in Srinagar, but the carnage still goes on and innocents are still dying for nothing.

An extract from Deepti Menon's 'Arms and the Woman' that was published in 2002 by Rupa Publishers, Delhi

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Finding the Angel - Book Review

Rubina Ramesh has done it again! After her first book of short stories titled, ‘Knitted Tales’, which brought forth myriad moods of life, her ‘Finding the Angel’ comes across as a breezy romance that is easy and pleasant to read. The mystery kicks in later, but romance it is that reigns, and lingers.
“When he became the seeker, she was his haven. When she became demanding, he became her beacon.”

Shefali Verma is employed to catalogue the Ranaut antiques, and entrusted with the Angel with Egg in a Chariot, a rare, beautiful Fabergé egg, part of the private collection of the Ranaut Dynasty, given to Rani Gitanjali Devi by her late husband. “The Angel, a Fabergé  renowned for its workmanship, was a legend, a sort of folklore, amongst art collectors”. 
Enter the cool, handsome hero, Prince Arjun Ranaut, who had taken over the helm of the Ranaut empire at the age of twenty-three. Disarmingly handsome, with a magnetic personality to boot, it requires all Shefali’s will power to heed her boss, Kalpana Desai’s advice to keep away from him as he is reputed to be a heartbreaker; advice easier given, than followed!

Kalpana, Shefali’s mother’s best friend, had cocooned her against the world after the death of the latter’s parents. She had lovingly moulded her into “the confident and articulate woman she had turned out to be”.  The Ranaut project is vital for Kalpana’s company, and she has full confidence in her protégé’s ability.  

An interesting first encounter with the Prince starts off with a minor misunderstanding, which Shefali handles with élan. This is a man who is used to women throwing themselves at him, and she will not succumb!

The characters are fascinating, almost etched from real life – the elegant Gitanjali Devi, Sonakshi, her elder daughter who takes her royalty and her husband equally seriously, guarding both jealously, and her husband, Arvind Singh, who has a roving eye. In stark contrast is her bubbly younger daughter, Raima, who proves an ally to Shefali, and her rather tame husband, Sameer Kothari. Another storybook character is Shekhar Ranaut, a cousin, who is interesting in his own right.

When Shefali abandons the prestigious Ranaut project after the loss of the Fabergéblame falls on her slender shoulders. How will she handle the scandal and the heartbreak of losing the man she has fallen in love with? Arjun Ranaut makes it clear that he “could forget the Angel but not the deception.”

‘Finding the Angel’ is a tempestuous love story that has its ups and downs as contrasting emotions grapple with one another.  The sprint and the chase, the sudden changes in mood, the tantalizing game of romance and the obvious attraction between the protagonists, keep the readers on tenterhooks as they wait for the inevitable. But before that, there is a mystery to be solved as well.

Rubina Ramesh tells a simple story, one that is a delight to read. The scenic beauty of Ranaut, a hundred miles away from Pali in Rajasthan, comes across in her picturesque descriptions, as do the traditions that lie hidden in expressions like ‘‘Khamaghani’ the Rajasthani greeting, ‘Hukum’, ‘Bhaisa’ and ‘Kuvar’, titles that are so typical. She tells the saga of the Ranaut dynasty in almost soulful prose.
“How many names of lovers were carved on the stone wall, most of them dying a silent death of unfulfilled promises?”

Finally, all the threads are tied together and the mystery dovetails into a satisfactory ending, leaving the reader content at having enjoyed a good read.