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.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Sky Full of Stars

“You have a cataract in your left eye!”
I felt the world spin around me as I heard the doctor’s calm voice. I hadn’t ‘seen’ that coming! My husband looked just as stunned. A cataract at my age? I wasn’t close to seventy yet, even if my hair was a natural burgundy, as I always claimed. How could I have a cataract?

The doctor smiled in amusement. “Yours is probably a pre-senile cataract!” she explained, as though that made it better. “People in their forties sometimes develop this condition.”
“Ahem, I am in my mid-fifties,” I coughed modestly.

“Oh, then it is a senile cataract!” she amended decisively, making me cringe for my poor cataract. “But don’t you worry! We will fix you!”

  Fix You - Coldplay

I went home in a daze, half apprehensive, half elated at the bombshell I was going to drop on my unsuspecting family. And I was not disappointed, for all of them were flabbergasted, each one climbing over the others to assure me that it was going to be fine, there would be no pain in a laser surgery and that I would be able to look on the bright side of things when my eyesight improved drastically.
“Oh, you might actually be able to see the man you married properly!” quipped my brother-in-love.
“And yes, imagine being able to recognize people from a distance!” said my sister, referring to an article I had once written, which was titled ‘Glassy Eyed!’

If I have deigned to write about any malady till now, it is because I have gone through it, a la ‘Hysterics over a Hysterectomy’, which I had written after that oh-so-vexing ‘period’. Luckily, these proved good fodder for my writing, and the aforesaid article actually won me an amazingly accurate thermometer which calculated body temperature through the ear. That my enthusiastic Army husband made me donate it to his Unit Hospital/MI Room is a different story altogether!

My thoughts flew back to my childhood when I had thought my relatives who had had cataract surgeries singularly blessed. All they did was loll around on their armchairs wearing glamorous dark glasses, listening to music or the news. They were forbidden from any strenuous activity, and from going out into the heat and dust. Special dishes were made to tempt them to eat and drops were assiduously poured into their eyes every couple of hours. What was best was that they were not allowed to bathe, an activity that many of us wished we could get out of, as it ate into our playtime.
Many a harassed student, yours truly included, had gazed at the cataract survivors enviously, bemoaning the fact that we ourselves had to pore over prodigious amounts of school work or beastly projects we had to complete in ‘record’ time.

As I grew up and meandered towards Literature, the word ‘cataract’ took on a whole new meaning.  Wordsworth said poetically in Tintern Abbey, “The sounding cataract haunted me like a passion” and Tennyson expounded on how “the wild cataract leaps into glory.” As I read these words, my heart leapt with passion and glory, and cataract surgeries seemed too far removed and unromantic to be worried over.
A scientific minded cousin of mine scoffed, “A cataract is a mere waterfall, in literary parlance.” I recall retorting that Botany was the art of insulting flowers in Latin and Greek, which led to an amicable truce.

 Thus, I ambled along through life, rose-coloured spectacles perched firmly on my nose, when gradually I began to sense a lowering of sight in my left eye, which had always been weak. My right eye was a lone ranger and had put an understanding arm around the left from a very young age as if to murmur, “Don’t you worry, my boon companion! I am there to take care of you!” And so it did so, taking over the whole load of its lazy companion who promptly decided to roll over and play dead.

As I lay on the surgery table, my eye having been regularly doused with drops over the past couple of days, clad in the green hospital gown, with only my left eye exposed, my doctor came to me, and said, “Don’t worry! It will all be over soon. Only lie still and don’t move your eye at all!” That was easier said than done, as my heart beat violently, and my single eye stared up at the blinding lights above.

However, what followed was, indeed, an experience, as I witnessed an explosion of colours, hemispheres colliding, and a sensation of water cascading over my eye at regular intervals. There was no other sensation and I relaxed and lay back, as the colours continued to dance and frolic before my eye. In about fifteen minutes, she told me, “We are almost done, OK?” I was overwhelmed when, after bandaging my eye, she explained that not only had she removed the cataract, but that she had also corrected my vision as well.

Once home, my concerned husband hovered around like a mother hen. He handed me a brand new set of earphones, saying sternly, “No exerting, no reading, no watching TV, no cooking...!”
“And no living!” I retorted. But I knew he was right and gave myself up to sitting and contemplating on all the future books I would write, and all the mouth-watering dishes he would cook for me. However, after the first two days, I needed to have something else to occupy my mind. What could I do?

The first thing I did was discover ‘Coldplay’, the band that had come and conquered our capital, unlike the next hyped young singer who came and apparently lip-synced his way out of the hearts of all those poor souls who had spent a bomb for the gala event.
Next, I found a treasure trove; a website that offered almost 7000 free audio books, which consisted of all the old classics that I had always adored. From then on, I did not have a moment to lose as I lost myself in such gems as ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’, ‘Wives and Daughters’ and ‘An Ideal Husband’.

I then veered towards crime stories, choosing ‘The Abandoned Room’ by Wadsworth Camp as a first choice, listening to an eerie voice read out the story as I lay in the dark, night after night. It was not surprising that, on one of those nights, I walked into the bathroom, and almost jumped out of my skin at the sight of a monstrous visage that glowed out at me in the inky darkness. I screamed, as my husband jumped up and hastened to put on the light, his heart in his mouth.
“What is the matter? Are you fine?” he asked anxiously.
I looked at him sheepishly, one eye covered with a cup that was stuck over it to protect it. I had seen myself in the shadows, and my one eye without its generous ‘racooning’ of kajal had quite undone me! Almost as scary as seeing movie stars minus their painstaking make-up on! It would take a month for me to look human again.

However, my sky was full of stars as my eyesight had gone from a minus 8 in my left eye to almost normal. I would not need glasses anymore, except for reading. How huge a miracle was this, and how amazing were the nano surgeries of today which had transformed the old painful procedures in the past into an experience that was more pleasant under the meticulous hands of my doctor, than not! The biggest blessing of all was that I had experienced no pain at all, during the surgery or even after.

So now, “when on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood”, I marvel upon the mysteries of nature and medical science, that dance together in a harmonious waltz, to create that ultimate miracle... in my case, the boon of good eyesight for once, in all my years of life! And as Walt Whitman said so poetically, “Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”

A Sky Full of Stars - Coldplay

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Story Behind Cantilevered Tales - Guest Post

Jayant Kripalani has always been a name to reckon with, whether in filmdom or in the world of theatre. He has lived his roles to the hilt, be it the charming protagonist of Mr Ya Mrs,  or the suave Rohit in Khandaan.  Now he is all set to prove his prowess as a writer in Cantilevered Tales, and there is no doubt that he 'cantilever'! (can deliver)

The story behind Cantilevered Tales

Why Jayant Kripalani wrote this book?

Why did I start writing this set of short stories that became one long story? I don’t really know.

I was on way my back from somewhere by train and at Howrah Station a group of taxi drivers tried to extort a higher fare from me.  This was before the time of pre paid taxi booths.  Rather than shell out five times the fare I thought I’d take a bus. It was peak hour in the morning and though I did get a seat since the bus started from there, I hadn’t calculated the length of time I’d be sitting in the bus on the bridge. Forty five minutes of inching along later I heard a voice behind me say, “AitakiHaora Bridge na Laora Bridge?”
I knew exactly what he meant.
I knew exactly what he meant.
I knew then that I had the beginning of a story.
“Where are you getting off?” I turned around and asked.
“High Court,” he replied.
By now we had reached the East end of the bridge. It still looked like we’d be on the bus for another 45 minutes.
“Walk?” I asked him.
“Let’s,” he said.

And that as they say was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
His name was Khokon. He lived in Santragachhi. And because of that immortal first line, I called the protagonist of my story Khokon. In the book though, the line belongs to his colleague Ashutosh.

Some time later, I overheard a group of people talking about saving a water body from some unscrupulous builder.ArunLal the cricket player might have been a part of the group but I’m not sure.  I started keeping tabs on them. Not because I was interested in saving the environment or even that small little lake.

I am not a crusader.

I hate getting involved with issues.

But if you live in Calcutta, even for a short while, trust me, you’ll get involved.

More power to the builder I thought after I first saw the lake if you can call brackish acres of sludge a lake.

What did interest me were the disparate lot of people, and some desperate ones among them, who were determined they were going to save a stagnant water body from becoming an office complex.Frankly in my opinion that lake had outlived its usefulness to be anything at all.

I didn’t give a damn what happened to the lake.

But over a period of time I did start worrying about the people. And of course fell hopelessly in love with them. Their wellbeing and their good health became a matter of great concern to me especially since I saw the array of ‘villains’ lined up against them.
So rather than concentrate on Builder v Helpless Citizen – enough stories had been written about them, I concentrated on their stories and their histories.

This is their story or should I say these are their stories.  Some of the people are real; some of the people who come to their assistance are thinly disguised caricatures of people I admire; some are just people I met on buses and trams in my journeys across the bridge who wormed their way into the book.

And that is how this book got wrote.

Jayant Kripalani

Book Blurb


I overheard a group of people talking about saving a water body from some unscrupulous builder and started keeping tabs on them. Not because I was interested in saving the environment or even that small little lake. What did interest me were the disparate lot of people, and some desperate ones among them, who were determined that they were going to save a stagnant water body, which in my opinion had outlived its usefulness as anything at all, from becoming an office complex.

 This is NOT a Builder v Helpless citizen epic. In fact that is the least important part of the book. This is about a group of inept people who you want to reach out and protect but you discover are more than capable of taking care of not just themselves, but of you too.

Author Bio:

Jayant Kripalani is an Indian film, television and stage actor, writer and director. Known for his work in TV series like Khandaan, Mr Ya Mrs and Ji Mantriji, he graduated
from Jadavpur University with a degree in English Literature.

He has played character roles in movies like Heat and Dust, Rockford,
Jaane Tu. . .Ya Jaane Na, 3 Idiots and, most recently, Hawaizaade and The Hunger. He has directed and produced a number of films and is actively involved with theatre. He wrote the screenplay for Shyam Benegal’s film Well Done Abba. He is the author of the heartwarming and nostalgic New Market Tales, set in the historic New Market area of
Kolkata in the 1960s and 1970s. His recent foray into writing performance poetry has brought him acclaim in poetic circles around the country. When he is not in Calcutta, he is either fishing in Himachal, pfaffing in Bombay or being a beach bum in Goa.


  ‘Tales that Entail’ by Jaseena Backer is an anthology of stories that are hard-hitting and realistic. Right from the first story, the auth...