Vantage point




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Antu Barva by P. L. "PuLa" Deshpande

Fourteen years ago today, Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, arguably the most influential and beloved person from Maharashtra, died at the age of 81. He left behind a gargantuan legacy in the form of his books, plays, songs, movies, essays, social work, but more than that, the lasting impact he has had on Maharashtra. Every couple of years, I translate one of his essays or short stories on this blog. This time, I have chosen Antu Barva, a fictionalized life sketch that he created as an amalgam of several people he knew in Konkan. It is not exactly LOL funny, but is light-hearted while still tugging at your heart-strings. It is meant as a depiction of the tough life in Konkan in the middle of the 20th century, and the sort of complex and poignant characters such a life spawns.

But as somber as the basic subject matter is, PuLa manages to inject humor into it, even if the humor is dark. When I first read Antu Barva, I just read it as a slightly humorous life sketch. As I have re-read it and re-heard its narration over the years, I have come to recognize it as something beyond just that. It is one of PuLa's best allegorical social commentaries in my opinion. He was duly recognized for Vyakti Aani Valli, the book that this sketch appears in, with a Sahitya Akademi Puraskaar. In that book, I think this is THE most impressive and multi-layered sketch.

For years, I considered translating Antu Barva here but was too intimidated given how nuanced it is. PuLa gave Antu a specific Konkani "voice" (in text form as well as when he narrated the sketch for TV) that is impossible to translate. No matter how well I tried, I thought I would end up doing injustice to the original work. This is in addition to the usual difficulties in translating PuLa's wordplay and nuanced observations. So it is with a great sense of trepidation that I am even attempting this today. A LOT will get lost in translation. But I hope PuLa's fans will forgive me any errors. Because I think this particular piece is one of the greatest literary achievements from an Indian and it deserves a wider audience.

Miss you, PuLa. Bhool-chook maaf kara.

Ratnagiri's middle lane has been home to some towering personalities over the years. God used a unique formula when creating these people. These people tend to be a metaphorical amalgam of Ratnagiri's most famous products - sweet mango, rough jackfruit, hard coconut, irritating colocasia leaves, and intense betel nuts whose one bite will make your heart jump up your throat.    

It is in this unique Ratnagiri soil that Antu Barva grew and ripened. Actually, Antu's age doesn't really justify people casually calling him just "Antu". When I first met him 12-14 years ago, not just his stubble, but even the hair on his ears and chest had turned white. His teeth had mostly gone "Annu Gogtya".

Going Annu Gogtya = falling.

This is an idomatic phrase that Antu Barva coined. A lawyer from Ratnagiri named Annu Gogte has been standing in the local elections for many years. Standing and then falling. Repeatedly, without even coming close to winning. So even if a bucket falls in a well, Antu asks "has the bucket gone Annu?"

When someone is talking about old Antu, they just refer to him in the singular casual "Antu". As it is, characters from Konkan are quite singular. But no one calls Antu just "Antu" to his face.  They call him Antu sheth!

True blue Brahmin Antu got this trader caste suffix "sheth" decades ago. After all Antu himself had committed a sin justifying this demotion. During the first world war, Antu started a shop near the docks. It failed spectacularly even before the Treaty of Versailles. But that short-lived stint as a shopkeeper was enough to turn Antu into Antu sheth.

After that, no one remembers Antu doing anything specific to make a living. He manages to somehow score at least two square meals a day from somewhere. He has a little plot of land with a garden that has a couple of dozen coconut and Alphonso mango trees, sprinkled with the odd jackfruit and tamarind tree. He has a little single-room shack on that land. He has the right to draw water from the nearby well. Antu sheth manages to get by on all this.

I first met Antu at Bapu Hegishte's store. I had gone there to buy some cigarettes when Antu's face peered out from behind a newspaper. He slid his reading glasses up his forehead and said,

"You're Lawyer saheb's son-in-law, right?"

"Yes" I replied.

"Ahha! I recognized you right away! Please, have a seat, please. Bapu, some tea for our jawaibapu (a respectful term for son-in-law)!"

I had no idea who this guy was, suddenly acting so familiar. Antu sheth himself explained,

"Your father-in-law is a good friend of mine. Tell him Antu Barva said hello."

"Sure."

"Hmmm....when did you come from Pune?"

"Two days ago."

"Of course....the first Diwali after you got married....haha...ask him for a Ford car!"

"He is your friend. Why don't you tell him?"

"Haha, you're from Pune after all. Can't get the last word with you." he laughed. "So...staying long or just a flying visit?"

"Just a short trip. I'm leaving in a couple of days."

"Excellent! It's always good to keep such visits short. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. Don't end up like that Kasopkar's son-in-law. He set up camp for six months. Finally Kasopkar lost his patience and made him plow his land! When a son-in-law stays with you for too long, he starts feeling like a pain in the neck, right?"

"You're right." I nodded.

"Bapusheth, I hope you recognized our lawyer's son-in-law. We are both your father-in-law's clients, jawaibapu."

Bapu Hegishte smiled and folded his hands in greeting.

"Welcome. Would you like to have some tea?" he asked.

"No, it's okay. It's really hot right now."

"Of course, it's always going to be hot in Ratnagiri!" Antu jumped in. "You can't sleep in a cowshed and then complain about the stink of cow piss! If Ratnagiri had cool weather, they'd have called it Shimla, not Ratnagiri!"

Before I could say anything, Antu continued,

"But the heat is way worse in your neighborhood with all those houses next to each other. Come to my garden near the beach. My garden is...how do you say...."aircondition"!"

Antu sheth said the last words in English and laughed, and then added,

"That's our country joke, jawaibapu!"

Then he addressed Hegishte again.

"Bapusheth, did you know our jawaibapu here is a writer? Writes plays and movies and what not. Behave properly when he is around or he'll write a hilarious farce about you."

The pride I felt on my fame having spread even to someone like Antu Barva was dashed by Bapu Hegishte's next question. Bapusheth looked me up and down carefully for a few seconds and said,

"What do you do?"

"What the hell do you mean what does he do?" Antu thundered. "Are you insane, Hegishte? Take out that pile of raddi old newspapers and open them. You'll see his name and picture in dozens of places! He makes movies!"

"Movies!!?? Really??" Hegishte's expression changed to one of wonderment and he looked at me as if I was God.

"Jawaibapu, speaking of movies, can I ask you a question if you don't mind?"

I could see the naughty expression on Antusheth's face as he asked me this.

"Sure, go ahead."

"How much money do you make from one movie?"

This wasn't my first trip to Konkan. So by now, I had gotten used to dealing with such intensely personal questions.

"That really varies from movie to movie." I deflected.

"But still....I mean I have read that you get like a million or a million and a half."

"No way! There isn't nearly that kind of money in Marathi films."

"Yeah, but still. Even if you don't get fistfuls, you must be getting at least 2-3 pinchfulls?"

"You get it sometimes, and also lose it sometimes." I stuck to being vague.

"Well of course, it's a business after all. When it comes to business, you win some, you lose some. It's all part of the game."

Antu sheth got philosophical. But only for a moment.

"Can I ask you one more question? Only if you don't get angry."

"What's there to get angry about? Go ahead."

"Well..you know....whatever we read about these film actresses in magazines and all....is that real or is it fake like Gangadhar Basthe's "real" Belgaum butter?"

"What do you mean all this about film actresses?" I kept a straight face and pretended to not get what he was saying.

"Quite a skillful guy you are, jawaibapu. Skillful! You'll make a great witness in court!" Antu sheth was having none of it. "All this about film actresses as in...the whole index finger nostril thing."

I didn't immediately get what he meant by the whole index finger nostril thing. So Antu sheth gently tapped his index finger against his nostril and winked. Fortunately, before I had to say anything, a waiter arrived with the tea Hegishte had ordered.

"Looks like all the cows in Ratnagiri are still pregnant, Jhampya!" Antu made a sarcastic remark to the waiter on the color of the tea. And then he poured the tea in the saucer and started slurping it.

Actually, Antu sheth could have just said to the waiter in plain words that the tea was low on milk. But he preferred the "all the cows are still pregnant" phrasing. Why just Antu sheth? Almost everyone from that middle lane in Ratnagiri spoke in that sarcastic obtuse way.

By now, Antu sheth and I have become good friends. In the last decade or so, whenever I have gone to Ratnagiri, I have spent time with him. He always included me in his group of friends, taught me the ganjifa card games they played. And over the years, I heard a lot monologues on the odd philosophy of life that those men in their 60s had developed.

I even learned all the idiomatic phrases the group had come up with. They all dressed similar. A cotton loincloth from the waist below, a small cotton scarf on the shoulder, worn-out sandals, one hand holding a walking stick, and the other holding a jackfruit. Dressed like that, Antu sheth would roam around in the neighborhood calling his friends to join him every afternoon.

"Govindbhat! Wanna play a couple of hands?"

"Paranjape? Are you awake or have you turned into a python?"

I too became a part of their card game gang. If once in a while, the card game wasn't really panning out well, Antu would put the cards down and say to me,

"Jawaibapu, why don't you sing a Malkauns or something? Godbolya, bash a little tabla with our guest. Khaju sheth, open your decrepit harmonium."

And then we'd have an impromptu jam session for a bit at Antu sheth's orders.

"Jawaibapu, your pipes are kick-ass!" he'd compliment my singing in his unique way.

Every other year or so, I'd visit Ratnagiri and attend Antu sheth's court. But with each visit, the court seemed to be getting smaller.

"Antu sheth, haven't seen Damu kaka around." I asked once.

"Who? Damu Nene? He is living it up! I am told Rambha is rubbing oil on his bald head, and Urvashi is airing him with a fan!"

"What????"

"What do you mean what? Damu Nene got transferred from Ratnagiri!" and Antu Sheth pointed to the sky.

"Oh!" I finally understood what he meant. "I am so sorry. I had no idea."

"Why would you have any idea about it? Do you think that they're going to announce on the radio that Damu Nene has croaked? His family did pay for an obituary in the newspaper though. Heh, they wrote he was loving, caring, friendly, pious, and what not. What do the newspaper folks care? As long as you are paying, they will publish any nonsense."

Antu continued in his characteristic manner.

"Damu Nene and loving? Hmpf! Even when he was lying dead on the pyre, the furrow on his brow was intact! One day he decided to sleep outdoors because it was too hot. They found him dead the next morning. Lucky bugger. Died on Ashadhi Ekadashi too! So there were two processions from Ratnagiri that day. One for Lord Vithoba and another for Damu Nene. Damu died on Ashadhi. And then on Dussehra, Dattu Paranjape crossed the border and did seemolanghan. The first guy croaked, the second guy croaked.....now waiting for the third. They say things happen in three."

Antu looked at me mischievously and shrugged.

And that's the essence of Antu Barva for you. Standing at less than 5 feet, bronze-fair complexion, small pockmarks on his face, small gray eyes, creased skin belying his advanced age, half his teeth fallen....or "gone Annu"...leading to a new habit of poking his tongue through the gaps while talking.... and with all this, weighing in at barely 100 lbs.

Every aspect of Antu Barva's earthly existence was getting worn out with each passing year except for two - the nasal booming voice and the slick intelligence fed by decades of rubbing coconut oil on his head.

It wasn't just Antu sheth. Almost all the men his age from that part of Ratnagiri were of a similar bent....which was a crooked bent. Their language was unnecessarily complex and their attitude exceedingly cynical. They didn't feel happy if someone did well, and didn't feel sad if a tragedy befell someone. There was no joy for births, no mourning for deaths. Most of them apart from Antu didn't really like music, but didn't dislike it either. And when it came to food, the taste and flavors didn't matter, as long as their belly got filled. The engine of their life never really faltered when it ran out of steam, nor did it go fast when it did have some steam. But the road their lives took was like every road in Konkan- serpentine.

That's the hand life had dealt them. Even though their lives were full of the wholesome coconut tree, their fates and thus their tastes leaned less towards the sweet creamy inside of the coconut, and more towards its tough shell.


One summer, a second-rate theater company from Mumbai was touring Ratnagiri staging Ram Ganesh Gadkari's famous play Ekach Pyala. I went to watch it. The production was barely competent in the first act. At intermission, I walked outside to the hissing clinks of soda bottles being opened. Under a Kitson lamp, I saw Antu sheth's diminutive form. He was talking to the fur-cap clad manager of the theater company.

"So....how's the attendance?" Antu sheth asked.

"Not bad." the manager gruffly replied.

"Not bad? Most of the chairs seem empty. Why don't you let me in for half price?"

"No way!" the manager shook his head rudely.

"Why are you brushing me away like a lizard? I heard the first act from out here anyway. The guy playing Sindhu doesn't seem to be very good."

[aside - in the early-to-mid 20th century in orthodox Maharashtra, it was taboo for women to perform on stage. So much like in Shakespeare's days, female parts were usually played by men. The legendary Bal Gandharva excelled at this and one of his most famous roles was playing Sindhu in the first staging of Ekach Pyala.]

"The guy playing Sindhu doesn't seem to be very good." Antu sheth said. "He sang 'lage hridayi hurhur' like a squeaking mouse. Did you ever hear how Bal Gandharva sang it?"

The manager got pissed off.

"I'm not begging you to come watch it!" he thundered.

"But the town is full of your advertising boards begging us to come watch it." Antu sheth instantly replied. "And yesterday your people were going door to door with fliers. As it is, it's mainly empty chairs you are showing this play to. How about four annas?"

"Four annas? What is this? A monkey performing on the street?"

"That's better than this! They perform first and then circulate a plate for money. Why don't you try that? If the next act is better than the first one, I'll pay you an extra four annas!"

The people standing around them started laughing and the manager got even more upset. That's when Antu sheth noticed me.

"Namaskar, jawaibapu! How's it going? How's Ekach Pyala?"

"It's okay." I said.

"I'm sure you got a complimentary pass. You're from the same community. I have heard that barbers don't charge each other for shaves."

"No, nothing like that. See, I bought a ticket."

"Then why a wishy-washy response like "it's okay"? You've paid hard-earned money for this, haven't you? Assert your rights as a paying customer. Call it what it is. Utter crap. Especially that guy playing Sindhu is totally useless!"

"What do you mean the guy playing Sindhu? It's a woman playing the role." I told him.

"WHAT??" Antu sheth looked genuinely shocked. "You're kidding me! That voice and that built! If she decides, she can lift Sudhakar up like a baby! Sindhu indeed.......more like Sindhudurg!"

"So you watched the play after all?"

"For a few minutes. Moved the curtains from the window and had a peek. Hmpf! Even gypsy performers are better than these idiots."

Antu sheth spat out another unsolicited opinion and walked away.

But that's pretty much what his life was - spitting out unsolicited opinions. I knew Antu for so many years, but I never found out much about his family situation. Once Anna Sane from Antu's court had let slip a mention of his son.

"What? Antu sheth has a son?" I asked.

"Of course he has a son. Not only that, his son is a Collector!" Anna Sane nonchalantly said.

"Collector???"

"Yup. He's in charge of collecting tickets on Byculla station." he deadpanned without letting a single muscle move.

"Doesn't look like he helps out his father financially."

"He does sometimes. When he can. He has his own family. Besides, a Western Railway compartment has been attached to a Central Railway train."

A PhD student could do a dissertation on those guys' peculiar idioms and phrases. I was well-versed in the language by now but it took me a few moments to realize that this was code for an inter-religion marriage.

"So you see, Antu sheth has trouble with his post-bath rituals at his son's place. Plus apparently his son is also into some other Anglicized habits if you know what I mean. So how can Antu sheth spend too much time there? Still, once Antu sheth swallowed all the insults and went to Mumbai to see his grandson. Came back looking like he had messed up a math problem."

"Every Dussehra and Diwali, Antu gets his son's love in the form of a money order. Not much, maybe 5-10 rupees. For a few days after that, Antu acts like he's won the lottery and splurges as much as he can. Which isn't much."

"Understandable." I said. "After all, how much can a ticket collector's pay be?"

"Yeah, the pay is pretty meager. But one hears that a ticket collector can also make a little more on the side, especially in holiday season if you know what I mean." Anna said. "Nothing wrong with it of course. If he has an opportunity to make some money, why shouldn't he? You know how it is in this country. If you get caught taking a ten rupee bribe, they put a striped cap on your head and send you to prison. But if you get caught taking a million rupee bribe, they put a Gandhi cap on your head and send you to Parliament! Democraticaly elected people's representative!"

Politics was the most favorite topic for Antu sheth and his buddies to express their unique opinions on. They had profound thoughts on every politician and party. One year, there was a famine in Konkan. Konkan is always facing a famine as it is. But this particular one was so bad that in Antu sheth's words it had "been approved under the Famine Act".

Nehru was touring the famine-hit parts of Konkan. He visited Ratnagiri for a speech and the whole town was caught up in Nehru-mania. One evening, someone asked Antu sheth,

"Antu sheth, I didn't see you at the speech?"

"Whose speech? Nehru's? Hmpf!" Antu sheth's disdain was obvious. "What nonsense. There's a famine here. Stop giving speeches. Give us food! This is like seeing a man drowning and instead of saving him, reading from the Quran to ensure that he doesn't end up in hell. Utterly useless. But everyone else is stupid. Oh, Nehru is here? He is giving a speech? He gives great speeches! Let's go! Bloody lemmings!"

"And now that Nehru is in Ratnagiri, what did they do? Idiots took him to show the house, room, and bed where Lokmanya Tilak was born! Morons. Tell me, did god appear in Gangadhar Tilak's dreams and tell him that your wife is going to give birth to a great leader? How would anyone even remember what bed Tilak was born on? But who cares? They just showed Nehru some random room and bed and bluffed - this is where Tilak first went WAAAAAAAAAA."

"Morons! Where's the proof? Where's the proof? Did they get the midwife from Tilak's birth to certify the bed? Hmpf! Forget Tilak. It's been a 100 years since he was born. You tell me. Can your own mother confidently identify the room and the bed where she gave birth to you? Go ask her and then tell me about Nehru and Tilak."

And so ended the rant.

I always wondered if there was anything or anyone in the world that Antu sheth and his friends had respect for. If they ever had a polite dignified response for anything at all.      

Somebody's son became a Professor. And Antu's response,

"Professor? In a circus?There used to be this Professor Chhatre in circuses performing magic tricks."

Someone opened a new store. And Antu's response,

"Tell him to have a bankruptcy form ready. It'll save time when the inevitable happens."

Who knows what school of philosophy these guys followed. More than half of them survived on money orders from children and relatives. They saved money from that and file lawsuits for the strangest reasons. Every lawsuit is stuck in delayed hearing dates. These guys have a big beautiful sea coast, coconut trees, gardens, everything you could reasonably hope for to be happy. But that apparent prosperity gets punctured by an occasional bout of misfortune and all that remains is an impenetrable shield of gallows humor.

Somehow the topic of Gandhi came up. And Antu sheth got on his soap box.

"Gandhi? What Gandhi? Traveled all over the world, but never came to Ratnagiri! Because he was smart. He knew that here, no one gives a damn about his loincloth or his walking stick. We are all just as naked and just as skinny. And his obsession with spinning khadi. It's all useless. Our own Shambhu sheth. All his life, he followed Gandhi's teachings and spun khadi for his clothes. Forget the British government, even Ratnagiri's Collector Gilligan didn't fear his "civil disobedience". And you're talking about Gandhi."

"Then there are all his hunger strikes and fasts. Half of Konkan is hungry and fasting, and not by choice. Someone who is well-fed will find something remarkable about hunger strikes. What do we care? Don't get me wrong. I am not saying Gandhi wasn't a great man. He was. But in our books, under what column should we make an entry for his greatness? And if you are talking about independence, then that had nothing to do with Gandhi, or Tilak or Savarkar."

"So did independence just fall out of the sky?" I asked him.

"It's up to you to find out where it fell out of." Antu replied. "One thing I am sure of is that the Brits left because they got bored. What more was left for them to loot? Their Raj business started making a loss, so they effectively declared bankruptcy and went home. The potter left with his pottery, and we sit here cradling his leftover broken pieces. This is all just a cycle of life and bigger than anything we can comprehend. It's not British rule, nor is it Nehru's rule, nor people's rule, nor anyone's rule. It's the creator's rule."  

"So how did your creator end up siding with the British?" I asked.

"Don't be silly. The creator is sitting pretty on his throne. He just played a small game."

"A game that translated into 150 years of slavery?"

"It's 150 years for you and me." Antu sheth was steadfast. "The almighty's wrist watch doesn't move forward by even one second unless a thousand years go by for us. In his eyes and on his scale, all this is just a minor game that lasted barely a millisecond."

When these emaciated old men started spouting this philosophy on the front yards of that impoverished middle lane in Ratnagiri, with dark shadows formed by the dim light of their age-worn oil lamps dancing on their wrinkled faces, my heart couldn't help but shudder.

"Socialism? What socialism? All nonsense, I tell you. Not even two mango leaves are alike. And these guys want to pretend all men are equal. In the creator's eyes, each individual is unique. How are they going to have equal opportunities or equal outcomes? But everyone is just blabbering....socialism is coming. Just like that Ratnagiri's legislator is saying...Konkan Railway is coming, Konkan Railway is coming. Sure, Konkan Railway is coming. And it's tracks are going through where one-armed Pandu Gurav's toilet used to be. Even if it does, is it going to make Pandu's shoulder stump sprout an arm? What difference will it make?"

"And without an arm to plow his field or pick his crops, no matter what you do with that damn railway, what good is it going to do him? He is still the same. Just because India became independent, does not mean that Hari Sathe's lazy eye got fixed. Nor did Mahadev Godbole's paunch disappear.  Nothing really changed. Even in the fabled Ram Rajya, Ram didn't uproot Hanuman's tail and attach it to his own ass. No. Ram stayed a man, and Hanuman stayed a monkey."

At such times, it almost seem like the Goddess of Wisdom Saraswati is sitting on Antu sheth's tongue.

"You're right." I said.

"Don't just say I am right for the heck of it to be polite. If I am wrong, say that and correct me. You might be younger than me when it comes to age, but when it comes to education, you are my elder, jawaibapu!"

Once in a while, Antu sheth will say something genuinely from his heart, without any sarcasm. But there is always some burning issue close to his heart underlying what he says.

The last few years, I could not go to Ratnagiri as often as I used to. In the meanwhile, Ratnagiri finally got electricity, its own college, tar roads, and all other features of 20th century life. When I met him after that, I said,

"Antu sheth, your Ratnagiri has now become posh! Electric lights and everything. Did your house get an electric connection?"

"No, not yet. But it's good that it's dark. Tomorrow even if I do get electricity, what is there to look at in that bright light? A penniless life? Who needs electricity to look at chipped walls and leaking shingles? It's better that my poverty stays hidden in darkness."

And then he laughed loudly for a full minute like it was a joke.

This time I saw that his teeth had gone almost completely Annu Gogte. I also learned that a couple of more friends of his had passed on and that the card game court was emptier than ever. For a change, I spotted a sense of love, longing, and kindness in the way Antu sheth spoke. I guess the empty seats at his card games were starting to make a place in his heart.

"Joglekar's son got a big promotion and moved to Delhi!" Antu sheth voluntarily shared some pleasant news without his customary sarcastic rejoinder. "Took his old man to Kashi, Haridwar, Vishweshwar, Hrishikesh and all. Fed a 100 brahmins there. Old man Joglekar was thoughtful enough to get me a small sealed pot with water from the Ganga. When you come visit next time, jawaibapu, you'll probably see that the seal has been broken and the water was poured down my throat if you know what I mean."

The next time I visited Ratnagiri, fortunately Antu sheth's Ganga water pot was still sealed.

"Wow, jawaibapu, wow! Congratulations! I heard you're going to England! Congratulations! Have a great trip. Just one "request" for you. Now I have to speak with you in English. So a "request"."

"What request?"

"Go see the Kohinoor diamond once. For some reason, it's an obsession I have always had, the Kohinoor diamond. I can't go see it, but you do it on my behalf. And then come back and tell me how it looks. See all the sights in London and Paris and everything!"

For some reason, I was overcome with a desire to touch his feet, something I had never done before. Right there on the street, I bent down and touched his feet.

"Live a long life!" Antu sheth touched my head gently. "You are a good person, which is why you are so successful."

I said goodbye and started to leave. I had barely gone four steps when I suddenly heard the familiar

"Jawaibapu!!!"

"Yes, Antu sheth?" I turned around.
  
"Forgot to ask you one thing. Are you going alone or with your wife?"

"Both of us are going."

"That's good. Don't mind me, I just had a nagging doubt, so I asked. You are going far away to learn something new. So I was reminded of Devayani's tale from mythology. Hahaha. Convey my blessings to your wife too. I am telling you, your good fortune is all because of her. That's all life is eventually about - the right woman."

Antu sheth paused and continued.

"Let me tell you something. Just between us. My wife passed away 40 years ago. Since then, the alphonso mango tree near my door has stopped flowering. When she was around, the tree yielded hundreds of mangoes every year. But since she left.....you know....fate can take really strange turns. Sorry, I am rambling. Anyway, safe travels. So when are you leaving from Ratnagiri?"

"Tomorrow morning by bus."

"Direct Ratnagiri to Mumbai?"

"Yes."

"Good call. Once someone completes that journey, then even traveling around the world seems easy in comparison. The other day Tatya Jog made the trip. He is still trying to locate all his bones.  Told me some 7-8 bones are missing!"

And he started laughing hard with his mouth wide open. I noticed that there was only one tooth remaining that hadn't gone Annu Gogte.

The next morning at 5 AM at the bus stand, I again heard the familiar cry,

"JAWAIBAPU!"

Antu sheth approached me and gave me a small paper pouch.

"I know you don't believe in god, jawaibapu, but do me a favor and keep this in your pocket. It is holy ash. It will keep you safe. You are going to London by air, so this small pouch shouldn't add too much weight to your luggage."

I put the pouch in my pocket. As the bus got going, I saw Antu sheth lift his shirt and gently wipe tears from his small blinking gray eyes. In that dim dawn light, seeing his bony chest and his concave stomach which had all but touched his back suddenly tugged at my heart.

Just like Konkan's jackfruit, it's people taste sweet only when they ripen for a long time.

xxxxxxxxxxx




Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Typology of the Indian Fan in the context of the FIFA World Cup.

I don't really follow soccer*. So I don't know much about soccer. But I follow a lot of Indian soccer fans. I view them with mild amusement mixed with scientific curiosity. I study them. I try to find patterns in their bizarrely enthusiastic behavior. And I love doing pop-socio and pop-psych analysis of their behavior and their attitudes towards a game where India ranks even lower than countries smaller than my apartment building in Pune.

So I present here a typology of the Indian Fan in the context of the upcoming World Cup. The typology is arranged according to which country they support or bet on to lift the cup.

BRAZIL: This one is a no-brainer really, so let's get it out of the way. Everyone loves Brazil. It's a country that has won the cup the most often. They always have some of the best players, a style of play which is considered exciting, and wear really eye-catching yellow-and-green colors. So even someone with or without the most rudimentary knowledge of the game feels comfortable saying "Brazil of course!" when someone asks "Which team do you support?" It's like picking the Patriots at the beginning of the NFL season.

But it goes beyond just how good the team is on average (here comes the pop-socio and pop-psych). Brazil is "nice". Brazil is "safe". Other than soccer, what is Brazil associated with? Carnivals, pretty people, beaches, being part of the fashionable BRIC block, and again, carnivals. If countries were brands, Brazil would be like Linux - not really that relevant to your life but easy to love. It's the kind of country that if you visit as an Indian, you expect to love.

So might as well support them. Plus they are the hosts this time. Western media is being mean to them just like they were mean to India in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. They have messy social inequality issues just like us. Yes, Brazil is safe to support.

BEST 2 EUROPEAN UNION TEAMS: At any given time, at least 2 of the 3 objectively best teams in the world are from the EU. So the self-proclaimed "knowledgeable" soccer fan from India will be telling anyone willing to listen that one of those two teams is SURE to win. One of the two is always ALWAYS Germany. And the other is some country whose economy Germany has bailed out or will be bailing out soon. Right now it's Spain. A decade ago, it was France. In between, Italy took a break from electing Caligula-esque Prime Ministers to occupy that spot.

So Germany and "Another EU country" are the best bets for Indian soccer pundits who want to set themselves apart from the bandwagon Brazil supporters and maintain a chance for gloating when the dust settles.

ARGENTINA: Ah, Argentina! The most bizarre underdog-favorite combinations in the history of sport. I say this because some of my friends who support Argentina are genuinely convinced that Argentina is THE best team, regardless of the FIFA rankings. These verbose justifications start with "Messi is...." and then meander into incomprehensibility. Other friends supporting Argentina are steadfast about the team's underdog tag. "I always support an underdog, yaar!"

The media helps in whipping up support for Argentina too, given that Argentina is to FIFA what Notre Dame is to college football in America. Every damn year when the college football starts, there will be pundits in the media saying "OH NOTRE DAME HAS A FINE FINE TEAM THIS YEAR!". Most years, they stay in the rankings for three weeks before dropping out. Once in a couple of decades, in the vein of a stopped clock being right twice a day, Notre Dame will indeed have a great season. And then the pundits preen. And Hollywood makes an atrociously weepy movie starring a hobbit. But I ramble.    

So it goes with Argentina. Call it the continuing halo effect of bad boy Maradona. Or maybe the current halo effect of some guy named Messi who's done diddly-squat in two World Cups, but apparently does great in domestic soccer matches in Europe.

HOLLAND: The Dutch team is for true-blue underdog supporters. Again, I don't know much about soccer. But from what I am told, this team has choked more times than the South African cricket team, the 1990s Buffalo Bills, and Ivan Lendl combined. Which makes them particularly alluring for people who just love supporting an underdog in the faint hope that they will be proven right. Last time, these fans were rewarded by having to wait as long as the finals to have their hearts broken.

But still, for these folks, it is HUP HOLLAND HUP. A friend of mine says that the bright orange jerseys appeal to the latent Hindutva tendencies in some Indian fans, but we'll put a pin in that for now.

ANOTHER EU TEAM: The previous four categories take care of 90% of Indian soccer fans. Which brings us to self-proclaimed "knowledgeable" fans of the game who don't like being lumped with the conventional wisdom. They need to cogently claim that a different underdog is actually going to take home the cup, but the heathen masses are too blinded by media tropes to see it. So they pick a team which is ranked somewhere from 4th to 8th in the FIFA rankings and which has a player they have watched in one of the domestic soccer leagues from Europe.

"Of course it'll be Portugal yaar! That Cristiano Ronaldo I tell you...."

For the last 3 World Cups, the top choice for these people has been Portugal, thanks to this Ronaldo fella. Never mind that he and his team have shown the poor judgment of associating themselves with the New York Jets to practice for the World Cup. That anyone can think that a guy who voluntarily decided to learn something from Rex Ryan has any chance of winning anything shows how little soccer fans know about real football. But I troll. And I digress.

When it's not Portugal, it is some other European country that yes, Germany will also have to bail out.  

ENGLAND: Don't ask me why. Seriously don't. I know very little about soccer but even I know enough to know that the chances of England winning the cup are only negligibly higher than an Indian winning the Olympic 100 meter gold. And yet a few Indians will be steadfast in their support of England.

One guy I knew used to base his support on the supposedly "under-appreciated talents" of David Beckham. This was before Beckham became known as the guy who sells underwear on giant hoardings in Times Square. These days, I suspect the support for England is driven by the fact that so many Indians spend so much money on low quality made-in-Bangladesh jerseys of teams from the EPL, that they feel obliged to go all the way.

But seriously Indian supporters of England soccer, what are the chances that an England cricket team will win an ICC title AND a notionally English guy will win the Wimbledon AND England will win the FIFA World Cup, all within 5 years?

USA: The only Indians who support the US are a) Indians who live in the US, and b) follow only cricket and/or American sports. Yes, this includes me, ok? The rest of the time, we are happy with our WillowTV subscription, our NFL fantasy football leagues, out March madness brackets, our opinions on LeBron and the Heat, our love or hate for the Yankees or the Red Sox. We look at MLS ads and go "lulz". We see European soccer matches on our cable guide menu and go "WTF?".

But then once every four years, this damn World Cup thing comes along. And everyone is talking about it. Not just CNN, who will usually talk about the most vapid things. So what do we do?

USA! USA! USA!

We google furiously to find out who our players are. We try to figure out what the hell "Group of Death" means. We practice our pronunciation of Klinsmann. And we set a countdown clock to the start of the NFL season.

* "SOCCER? IT'S FOOTBALL BRO!!!" you say? Read this.  




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Khana Mat Khao" or In Telugu, Rice = Food?

Thanks to the harsh winter we are having, I have been battling cold, cough, and fever for over a week now. Last night, during a particularly phlegm-infested sleep cycle, I had a dream. A nostalgic dream, I dreamed of something from 28 years ago in Andhra Pradesh. Something that had baffled me for years.

In 1986 when I was 6 years old, my dad was transferred to Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh for a year. A couple of months after we move there, I fell ill. Fever, cold, cough, same as now. My dad took me to the neighborhood doctor (the neighborhood was Aryapuram, if memory serves). The doctor was a native Andhra-ite with a very rudimentary grasp of Hindi. We were Maharashtrians who spoke Hindi but with very little knowledge of Telugu. So we spoke in Hindi.

The good doctor examined me, wrote up a prescription for what I assume were antibiotics (that's the trusted way to treat the flu in India), and then proceeded to give me some dietary advice in Hindi.

Doc: Teen din ke liye, khana mat khao (For three days, don't have any food (or so it literally translates))
Dad: Kya? Kuch bhi nahi? (What? Eat nothing?)
Doc: Nahi nahi, khao. Bread khao, roti khao, dal khao, khana mat khao. (No No, you must eat. Eat bread, roti, dal, but don't eat food.)
Dad & Me: ???????????????????????
Doc: (also confused, but repeating) Bread khao, roti khao, khana mat khao (Eat bread, roti, but don't eat food.)
Dad: Lekin........ bread aur roti bhi toh khana hi hai. (But.....bread and roti is also food)
Doc: (looks at me and dad for a few minutes, thinks, and then suddenly smiles) Rice! Rice mat khao! (Rice! Don't eat rice!)
Dad: Rice?
Doc: Haan, bread khao, roti khao, rice mat khao (Eat bread, roti, but don't eat rice)

Now, the medical validity of the doctor's dietary advice aside, for almost three decades, this incident has been stored in my memory banks. I occasionally remember it and am confused. Today after I had dreamed of it, I thought of an explanation. Maybe in colloquial/spoken Telugu, in some parts of Andhra Pradesh (especially Rajahmndry), the word for rice is similar to the word for food/meal. The good doctor wasn;t exactly fluent in Hindi. So maybe it was a translation error.

So I turned to twitter for answers. Based on the responses I got, the verdict is mixed. Half the people say that the words are indeed used interchangeably. Others disagree.

I don't know. But it was fun to get a humorous blast from the distant past.     




Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween and Uncle Leo

Seven years ago this day was my first Halloween in America. I was a fresh PhD student still struggling with how much tougher the coursework was than I had expected. I had been in the country for a little over two months. That evening, after I finished my Stats homework at school and got on the bus to go home, I saw people in costumes all around me.

Ah, it's Halloween, I realized. Until then, most of what I knew of this country came from TV shows, movies, and books. So I knew that this was the night when kids accompanied by their parents roam their neighborhoods, knock on doors, and demand candy by yelling "Trick or Treat!!!". Oh great! So I will be expected to buy candy and hand it out? What a scam! But when in Rome, right?

Not wanting to be seen as a rude or clueless foreigner, I decided to take the necessary steps. I got off the bus at the stop in front of the grocery store. Bought lots of candy. Took another bus home. When I say "home", I mean a 3 bedroom row house I shared with two other Indian grad students who were both out of town that night.

At home, I put the candy in a bowl, turned the TV on and waited. The hours ticked by. Not a single knock on my door! I looked out the window. There were groups of kids and their parents dressed up in costumes knocking on doors around my building complex. So I guessed it was just a matter of time before they came to my door. But another hour passed by and there was no knock on my door. Before I knew it, it was 11 PM, the streets were deserted, and not a single person had come to my door trick-or-treating! All the candy was sitting there in the bowl. Except for the dozen or so that I had polished of watching TV.

The next day, I felt a little hurt. The neighborhood trick or treaters had ignored me! And as is the instinctive reaction for many of us, my first thoughts went to racism. It was because I was brown, I decided. These racist white folks didn't want to take their kids to an Indian guy's house. How shallow they are. And how bad I have it! I spent several hours indulging myself in the victim routine when everything that does not fit your expectations is due to racism. I became the Indian version of Jerry's Uncle Leo!

  
And then I got a reality check. I mentioned my shunning by the trick-or-treaters to an American friend, trying to sound as wounded as I felt. She seemed confused and initially a bit apologetic. Then realization dawned upon her.

She: Did you have a pumpkin outside your door? Or some sort of Halloween decoration?

Me: No.

She: So your door was completely bare?

Me: Yes, same as always.

She: Ah! That's the reason. In our town....and in most of the country....there's a simple code. Trick-or-treaters only knock on doors that have some Halloween decoration. That's the way a household signals that they want to take part in the candy thing. If a door is bare, it is meant to signal that you don't want to be disturbed.

Me: Really?

She: Yep, so kids and their parents saw that your door was bare, decided you didn't want to be disturbed, and went to the next house.

Me: Oh!

And there it was. A simple explanation for a phenomenon I had been too quick to put down to racism or xenophobia.

This is not to say that racism doesn't exist. But sometimes we need to stop being Uncle Leo and ascribe everything to racism.




Thursday, April 18, 2013

Conflicted

Something happened today that has left me conflicted. If you read this post months or years later, remember that "today" is three days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

I got on the 33rd Street PATH train at Hoboken (the starting point of the train) to head home to the city, and found the compartment mostly empty as usual. There was an old white man at one end and a young black woman at another. I sat down on a seat in the middle of the compartment, opened a magazine, and started reading.

A minute later, some more people walked in. An East Asian woman, two young white women, and a desi (South Asian) looking guy. The desi guy sat across from me about 10 feet away, slipped his backpack off, and pushed it under the seat. He then took a pair of earphones out of his pocket, put them in his ears and sat there listening to music.

I stole a few more glances at him and the backpack. It is not common, at least in my experience, for someone in the NYC area to push their belongings under the seat. On the seat next to them when the train is as empty as this one was, sure. On the floor between their legs, often. That's where my own backpack was. But under the seat, very rare. At least that's what I told myself was the reason for looking at him more than usual.

Soon the train got going. I tried to read the magazine, an article about HBO's new show Vice, but found myself glancing at him and the backpack every so often. The thought "what if the backpack has...." kept looping through my mind without completing itself.

Eight minutes later, the train reached Manhattan and stopped at Christopher Street. I looked at the guy. He was still listening to his music. There was one more stop to go before I got off at 14th Street. I found myself thinking, "I hope he gets off after me". For two completely opposite reasons, which are obvious.

A couple of minutes later, the train stopped at 9th Street. He got up. I dropped any pretense of stealing glances and stared at him. He didn't seem to have noticed. He took a couple of steps towards the door. My throat went dry as I saw that his backpack was still under the seat!

Shrill alarm bells rang in my head and I was about to spring up from my seat. I was just trying to decide if I should scream and tackle him or go press the Emergency Speakerphone button that every train compartment has.

Before I could make up my mind, he stopped mid-stride. He mouthed what seemed like "Oh shit!", quickly retracted his steps, and picked up his backpack from under the seat. He then turned around and sprinted out before the doors closed. The train started moving again.

I sat there, feeling conflicted. And have been conflicted ever since. Was I paranoid or just vigilant? "If you see something, say something!". Was I bigoted against brown people.....which as a brown person myself would make me self-loathing I guess. After all, I didn't look twice at any of the other people in the compartment. Or was I just being rationally cautious? Was it because I once possibly escaped a commuter train bombing because I was feeling lazy and cancelled dinner plans? Or do I harbor the same prejudices based on skin color and race that I usually abhor in others?

I am not sure. Conflicted.




Monday, February 25, 2013

Problem with Seth MacFarlane - He Insists Upon Himself

Last night was Oscar night. For a couple of weeks leading up to it, I was tweeting about how choosing Seth MacFarlane to host the Oscars was a horrible mistake because he was overrated, unfunny, and by and large a talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did. Many people, especially Family Guy fanbois, responded with indignation.

But then, last night was Oscar night. The mainstream press reviews as well as the overall twitter feedback was unanimous - Seth MacFarlane sucked!

And he was bound to suck. Because he is an overrated, unfunny, and a by and large talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did.

Here's the problem with Seth MacFarlane.

Apart from being overrated, unfunny, and a by and large talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did.

His jokes are just a manifestation of his immense self-indulgence and a meta-idea of how funny his jokes are supposed to be seen as.

His jokes aren't funny because of their content or humor quotient. He thinks his jokes are funny BECAUSE he thinks he is being so cool and edgy and counter-cultural by the virtue of the topics he is addressing. So it isn't so much what the joke is saying that is supposed to amused us, but the topic of the joke itself. Seth thinks that we should find any joke he makes about topic X funny only because most straight laced people wouldn't dare joke about topic X, and he was cool enough to do so.

Except, that's not what makes jokes funny. Or that's not all that makes jokes funny. Yes, there is an edgy appeal to tackling subjects that most straight laced people wouldn't dare joke about. But the jokes themselves have to be funny and clever. Let me give you an example from last night.

Talking about Lincoln, Seth said, "”I would argue that the actor who got most inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”

I yawned. And when he got a lukewarm response from the audience, Seth's reaction was "too soon?"

No, Seth, I don't personally think joking about an assassination that happened almost a century and a half ago is "too soon". The problem isn't that your joke was "too soon". It's that the joke was simply way too lazy, pedestrian, and something you expect to hear in 3rd rate comedy clubs with 2-drink minimums. It's an oh-so-predictable use of the "getting into one's head" metaphor and the fact that Booth was an actor.

When I find something funny, it's because someone made an observation and phrased it in a way I never would have thought of myself. And I wish I had. This joke was just lazy and stupid. If MacFarlane chooses to believe that he got a poor response because the joke was somehow edgy, politically incorrect, or whatever, he is just deluding himself.

And that's the problem with Family Guy too. For the first 3 seasons, Family Guy was a reasonably funny show. It had amusing and reasonably novel storylines supported by quirky characters, and frequent pop-culture references.

Then maybe MacFarlane ran out of story ideas. The show just became consumed by those pop-culture references. So just making a joke about topic X was supposed to be the amusing part, forget what the actual joke was. Family Guy decided that it was somehow the premier voice of wise-ass counter-culture. Which, well, it could have been. If it had written funny jokes. But it didn't.

MacFarlane decided that a joke would be funny just because it used a random topical or pop-culture reference. And 4th season onward, you could see these randomly unfunny jokes coming a mile away. The writing process itself got distinctly lazy. Something that South Park accurately spoofed -



To use Family Guy and Peter Griffin's own poorly phrased words, when it comes to making topical or pop-culture jokes, the show "insists upon itself".

And essentially, that's what MacFarlane did at the Oscars. He insisted upon himself. He insisted that by the virtue of who he was and the topics he was tackling, he should be hailed as a comedic genius. It was as if manatees were picking up random supposedly controversial pop culture references, and adding random nouns and verbs to make it a joke. And if we didn't find his jokes funny, we were just moldy curmudgeons who were too stuck up to get the jokes.

Seth MacFarlane doesn't realize that whether someone finds the selection of topics too risque or not (and I never have), his jokes simply aren't funny anymore. And that's what led to him bombing so badly at the Oscars. He thinks his limited fake voices and accents can inject an illusion of humor into his lazy jokes.

But all he does is, he insists upon himself.




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why I Threw Away My Ferrari Gear

I used to be an ardent Formula 1 fan. And an ardent Ferrari fan. Over the years, I lost interest in the sport. But occasionally I would still catch portions of a race on TV and in my heart, I was always cheering for a Ferrari win. On a recent trip to Europe, I bought some Ferrari gear to occasionally display my support.

This morning I threw all the Ferrari gear in trash. Because of this.

The background story in a nutshell is this. Two Italian navy sailors killed two innocent Indian fishermen in Indian waters (the Italians dispute the jurisdiction). India arrested and charged the sailors. The Italian government has been supporting these murderers. So has the Italian media. Note that they're not denying that the sailors killed those innocent fishermen. They still want the Indian government to let the sailors go. Why? The reasoning is flimsy and convoluted and in my opinion can be summarized as "Because!". The arrogance and the racist undertones in Italy's stance are obvious to me and many others. To me, the subtext is, "yes, our boys killed two guys by mistake. But they were just a couple of brown fishermen. Let our boys go! Give them back to us and we'll give them a slap on the wrist. You Indians have no right to try someone who killed your citizens". Do you think that if the fishermen had been Americans killed off the coast of America, the Italians would dare be this brazenly arrogant?

And in a sickening display of further arrogance and willful insensitivity, Ferrari decided to inject itself into the situation. The Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix is this weekend. Ferrari has announced it will carry an Italian Navy flag specifically in support of the two murderous sailors. It's not like Ferrari has been carrying the flag throughout the season. They're doing this only in India. They're not even using the pretext of just supporting the Italian navy in general. Their statements specifically mention support for the murderers. To me this is a small scale version of a British team carrying the flag of General Dyer's regiment only in India to express solidarity with his actions in Jalianwala Bag. Or some other European team supporting one of their fellow citizens who has been locked up in Goa for abusing street kids.

Ferrari is wrong for needlessly wading into this debate specifically during the Indian GP. But more importantly, they are absolutely wrong in supporting those two murderers whose crime, I repeat, is not even in doubt.

As an Indian, I find Ferrari's stance reprehensible and I cannot in good conscience support them in the slightest. So I threw away my Ferrari gear. I hope Indian fans who go watch the race on Sunday are not so slavishly beholden to the team and so morally bankrupt and insensitive as to wear caps or t-shirts supporting these proud backers of murderers.




Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Translating a Raj Thackeray Speech

I don't agree with Raj Thackeray's stance against immigrants from UP and Bihar. I can sort of, kind of, see where he is coming from, but I don't agree with the conclusion. And I find his forcible and occasionally violent methods to have his way (especially against powerless shopkeepers and job applicants) abhorrent.

However, as a Marathi person, I find the gap between what he says in Marathi and what is reported in the national media to be suspiciously wide. There are two problems. First, they wrongly translate a lot of what he says. Second, they seem to pick and choose the most provocative bits that can be spun into an attention-grabbing soundbite. I have written about the dangers of this phenomenon before.

Today Raj Thackeray led a rally to Azad Maidan (without permission from the police top brass) as a protest against the August 11 incident. He gave a speech there. Again, I marveled at the difference between what he was saying and what the national media was reporting he was saying.

So I had an idea. I have translated PuLa Deshpande's work before. Surely I can translate a speech. So here it is, the speech in Marathi, and then, what I think is an objective, unbiased, and direct translation in English. This is not an endorsement of what he said. Just a translation for illustrative purposes. I agree with some parts, and disagree with some. I'll leave you to judge it for yourself.

Note - I am translating it in a bit of a hurry. So please forgive any typos or inadvertent grammatical errors.



When it's an institution from Maharashtra, be it a police department, a media company, or anything else.... even just a person from Maharashtra....we should demonstrate the strength to ensure that no one ever looks askance at them again with the intention of harming them.

For the last two days, this has been going on... police officials come to me and ask, how will you take the rally from Girgaum chaupatty? I told them we'll walk.

(crowd laughs)

Then they're like, you can't go from here, you can't go from there...all these efforts at putting obstacles in our way have been spearheaded by Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik. I found out the other day..... in fact a few police officials told me this...that they'll try to stop our cars, and try other things to stop us. I called the Chief Minister right away, and asked him, what is this? What happens or doesn't happen (at the rally) is something we can deal with later. But can't we express our protest in a democratic way with a rally?

Why stop us at every point? I assured them at our rally will be a peaceful one, and they still refused us permission for it? And they had no problems giving permission for that Raza Academy rally? But here we are, with a rally to protest what happened the other day right here, and they refuse us permission?

Then there's (Home Minister) R.R. Patil who says - we won't spare anyone who threatens the law and order of the city. Really? So what happened that day? Was his tail between his legs?

(crowd laughs)

The other day he calls up (MNS MLA from Mumbai) Bala Nandgaonkar and says, "What could I do? What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to take a big stick and stand there?"

(crowd laughs)

There is this one boundary line....one border....one line that cannot be crossed. I have never crossed that line, and will never cross that line. Never raise your hands against the police.

(crowd applauds and cheers)

If you demoralize the police to such an extent, then where will the common man go with his problems? Where will he go? If this keeps happening, tomorrow even the police will say "we don't want to get involved here, do whatever you want".

Is this how a state is run? And this Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik. The cops caught the guilty people. And what does he say to the DCP who arrested the guilty people? He says, "You bastard, let them go!" He tells him to let the criminals go!

Our policewomen sisters were tormented here... they were pulled aside and beaten up and molested......all these guys, our Marathi police constables, were getting beaten up... and they weren't getting any orders?

Oh, and these (police head honchos) knew everything from the beginning. They knew that there were trains full of these goons coming for the rally. And they had choppers, and rods and everything else... tell me, are there ever any rocks lying around here (in Azad Maidan)? Where did the rocks come from?

These people had advance warning of all these facts, and they still ignored them. And they refuse permission for my peaceful rally? The other day, when some police officials came to meet me, I told them. I told them that the 11th August rally at least had targets. That mob knew that it was supposed to target the police and the media.

Who do we want to target (in this rally)? I have already declared our targets. Arup Patnaik, resign! R.R. Patil, resign! I declared this in the beginning itself.

We have not come here to destroy cars or set something on fire. We don't even wish to do all that. Even if we were to, whose cars would we destroy and whose property would we set on fire? Our own? Those belonging to our citizens from Mumbai and Maharashtra? This rally isn't for such purposes.

But how else are we supposed to express our anger? They won't let us express our anger at whatever happened. And they say, please respect democracy. This is democracy?

Go and look at the track record of Raza Academy and its rallies. A few years ago, this same Raza Academy had a rally in Bhiwandi. This bhadva (translates to 'pimp' but pimp doesn't have the same punch :)) Abu Asim Azmi went to that rally. He gave a speech there, that too an inflammatory speech. And they're sending me notices - "don't make inflammatory speeches". That Abu Azmi went there, made an inflammatory speech in Bhiwandi. You know what happened next?

The mob killed two police constables by bashing their heads in with big rocks. Then they cut off their private parts and threw their corpses into burning buses..... the government had no problems with that. And they refuse me permission for a rally?

Whoever came here (on 11t August) had no connection with Maharashtra. They all came from outside Maharashtra.

(crowd applauds and cheers)

After everything that went down here that day, this passport was found, a Bangladeshi passport...

(shows a Bangladeshi passport to the crowd)

This was found right here. Single entry passport (I assume he meant visa). Needed only to come into India. No intentions of going back, so it was thrown away here...

(throws it away)

There are countless such people coming into Maharashtra... they are all setting up their bases in Maharashtra. Tell me something....they say 'coincidence'....what coincidence?

In 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished, where was its retaliation felt instantly? In Mumbai! There was no violence anywhere else in the country (GS: this isn't true...there were riots in many other cities)...only in Mumbai! And when this incident happened during the rally on 11th August, its reaction happened in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. So something happens in Uttar Pradesh, there's a reaction in Mumbai, and something happens in Mumbai, there's a reaction in Uttar Pradesh. Doesn't India have any other states???

The reason is, all these people are coming here from there. All these Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have infiltrated and set up bases in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and Jharkhand, they're all coming here by the trainfuls. And the bases that they are setting up here in Mumbai, those are going to create trouble for us in the future.

Otherwise tell me, this Abu Azmi is elected from two different constituencies in Maharashtra. Two different constituencies? Should any politician from Maharashtra get elected from two different constituencies? He gets elected from two constituencies because all the people in those two constituencies have all come from outside, and they vote for him.

That day, it finally came to the police (couldn't understand the word he said here despite re-playing it many times, at 12:20)...then they had to do it. While doing that, the guy who died, Abu Azmi announced 1.5 lakh rupees for him. So why not for our policemen?

(crowd applauds and cheers)

Even the state government hasn't announced anything yet. No announcements from the state government that they are going to provide compensation for those who were hurt or troubled in those events. Nothing. Nope, just get beaten up.

Why didn't R.R. Patil speak up then? He threatens us.... anyway, what's the point in threatening us? It's almost time for us (and him...a pun) to leave now.

(crowd laughs)

They don't think about anything that has already happened or what may happen. They don't do anything useful. Just get the cops beaten up. Anyone will come, drag our cops away, and beat them up?

The other day when they had that rally in Uttar Pradesh, rioted, destroyed property and all. The ones who did that were also all from outside - Pakistani Muslims and Bangladeshi Muslims. They all poured out into the streets. And what did they do? They defaced a statue of Gautam Buddha. Everyone saw it. Everyone saw pictures, saw it on TV.

Where is Mayawati? Where is that Ramdas Athavale? Where is R.S. Gavai? Where is Prakash Ambedkar? Why are they all silent? All they're obsessed with, as if possessed by a ghost, is Indu Mills Indu Mills Indu Mills Indu Mills. Don't they have anything else to do? What do they want to build in Indu Mills - a bungalow?

Why aren't they talking now? But no one will talk about these things now. They're not ready to utter a word. It's been so many days since the (11th August) incident. But there has been no statement about it from Ramdas Athavale. No statements from R.S. Gavai or Prakash Ambedkar or Mayawati, or anyone else. Nothing. Cat's got everyone's tongues.

This Mumbai Police Comissioner.....he has a "favorite" (that's the word he used) officer Dhoble. The other day, he takes a hockey stick and goes to that...what was that..juice center bar... juice center something...where did he go?

(crowd prompts)

Yes, Amar Juice Center. Is that a place to take a hockey stick to? Take your wife, your kids, I can understand, but a hockey stick? He takes a hockey stick there and beats up innocent people with that hockey stick? And what's his defense? He found drugs there....then why didn't he shut it down?

And this idiot...Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik....what's his explanation? He says Dhoble was on his way to play hockey and stopped over at the juice center. Tomorrow, if someone has gone for his honeymoon. So will he just turn up there naked?

(crowd laughs and cheers)

So Patnaik will go out of his way to protect Dhoble! Because Dhoble is his "favorite". And here (in Azad Maidan) when cops were waiting for orders to tackle the mob.....if not firing, at least give us orders for a lathi charge.... at that time Patnaik had nothing to say. And when our police officers were catching the guilty culprits, Patnaik abuses the officers, calling them "bastards"? He is demoralizing cops to such an extent?

This won't be allowed to happen in Maharashtra anymore. I only want to say one thing to R.R. Patil and Arup Patnaik. Even if you have a little bit of shame left...even a minuscule amount of shame left.... then resign. If you have even the slightest bit of shame left.

For the last two days, some newspapers have been saying - "Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is now moving towards Hindutva". Whoever raises his hands against a cop, whatever his religion, he should be bashed up wherever he is.

When my own party's MLA was bashed up....Harshavaradhan Jadhav.....is he here?  When Harshavardhan was bashed up.... I gave the orders for him to be bashed up... would he have been bashed up otherwise? When I gave a speech at that time, I said the same thing. Harshavaradhan, no matter what happens, you DO NOT raise your hands against a policeman. Never raise your hands against a cop.

This has nothing to do with religion. All the constables who were here, all my policewomen sisters...the female cops... I consider them all my Marathi brothers and Marathi sisters. I have come out on the streets here for them.

The rally that day (11th August) was organized by Muslims and today I have organized a protest rally against it.... so immediately they're jumping to the conclusion that I am "moving towards Hindutva"? I only understand...this Raj Thackeray only understands one religion...and that is Maharashtra religion. I don't understand any religion except that one. No one dare cross this Maharashtra religion. No one dare think of harming it.

And today's rally is only to boost the morale of the police and to provide wholehearted support to the police.  Along with them, we have people from the media here. Media vans were attacked, burnt, photographers were beaten up.... this rally is to express support for all of them too.

I thank you all for the tremendous response to this rally. If ever such events reoccur, we must stand together in strength like this.

When you're going back...all of you, when you're going back...keep in mind and make absolutely sure that you don't indulge in any sort of untoward activities. Go back in an orderly and peaceful manner to wherever you came from.

I hope that in the future whenever I call upon you, you will return with the same enthusiasm. And now I take your leave.

Jai Hind! Jai Maharashtra!

--------- 




Monday, May 14, 2012

The Indian Collective Conscience's Blind Spot for Racism/Discrimination

A 2009 issue The latest issue of Outlook has this cringe-inducing article by Diepiriye Kuku, an African American (and presumably gay) PhD student in Delhi. There's nothing new about stories of discrimination faced by Africans or African-Americans or North-East Indians in major Indian cities. These instances are real and shameful. But for me, the most hard-hitting portion was not the one where Kuku describes the specific instances of discrimination he's faced (as shameful as they were), but this

Outside of specific anchors of discourse such as Reservations, there is no consensus that discrimination is a redeemable social ill. This is the real issue with discrimination in India: her own citizens suffer and we are only encouraged to ignore situations that make us all feel powerless. Be it the mute-witnesses seeing racial difference for the first time, kids learning racism from their folks, or the blacks and northeasterners who feel victimised by the public, few operate from a position that believes in change.
Bingo! Kuku has put in words an issue I have been discussing with friends for several years now.

When I tweeted this story, I got a few responses which said "yes, but Indians are also discriminated against in the West" and "Blacks face discrimination even in America, not just India" and "Discrimination is a universal human trait, so why single out India?" That last bit is valid. Discrimination or xenophobia is indeed a universal trait. We have all heard of people discriminating against outsiders or minorities all over the world. India is definitely not unique in that regard.

Where India is unique.....well I shouldn't say unique....but different from societies at least in the West, is the way its collective conscience views racism, or more broadly discrimination against those belonging to groups that aren't part of the "mainstream". We have a major blind spot there.

In the West, yes, everyday there are instances of discrimination on the basis of race and sexuality. But in the West, the collective conscience, or the social discourse recognizes that this is wrong. People use the term "politically correct" like a pejorative. But in the West, it is not considered politically correct by the society to come out and say that some races are inferior. Or that gays are inferior or abominations. Yes, some nutcases say that but in the West, the mainstream collective opinion holds the ideal of equality very dear.

That is largely missing in India. There is no general understanding that saying someone is inferior based on their race or sexuality is wrong. It does exist, in some degree, when it comes to caste. While casteism is still prevalent in India in various forms, the general collective discourse recognizes that saying certain castes are inferior is wrong. The opponents of racism using "merit" is often a code for implied inferiority, but even the use of that code is a "thank heavens for small mercies" byproduct of that Indian collective conscience as least recognizing casteism as wrong.

But when it comes to racism or homophobia, the Indian collective conscience still has a blind spot. Most Indians feel no compunctions in saying that a particular race is inferior or that gays are "unnatural" or "sick" or "disgusting". We humans may never be able to completely rid ourselves of xenophobia and discrimination, the way we may never be able to rid ourselves of murder and rape. But we can take a step in the right direction by at least getting our collective consciences to recognize that xenophobia or discrimination is wrong, just the way murder and rape.

India is yet to take that step. It is lagging behind the West by some decades. The West's conscience wasn't always enlightened. Before the 60s, it was perfectly acceptable to say in public that blacks are inferior and so should be segregated. Even until the 70s and early 80s, it was perfectly acceptable in the West to treat gays as abominations or mutations. But that isn't the case now. The Western conscience has moved and continues to move in the right direction.

I hope India's collective conscience does too. And soon.





Thursday, May 10, 2012

Recipe for Egg Salad Sandwich On Toast - Slightly Indian

When I moved from India to the United States in 2006, I encountered a multitude of food items I had never tasted in India. I could readily understand why I had never tasted most of those items in India, due to Indian conventions, habits, and availability of ingredients, such as ribs or steak tartare. But there was one item whose sheer simplicity astounded me. And which, by rights, should have been really popular in India. That item was the egg salad sandwich. I couldn't figure out why I had never encountered it in India.

The egg salad sandwich is so simple, even minimal. So elegant. So tasty. And so ideal for spicier Indian variations. And yet, almost completely absent from menus in India. Why? I have no idea!

Most chicken sandwiches you get in India are cousins of the egg salad sandwich - shredded chicken mixed with mayonnaise and mustard, served on toasted or untoasted bread. Another popular item in India, the Russian salad (which results in Russian salad sandwich or Rusian salad roll) is also similar. So why is the egg salad sandwich not available in India? I have no idea! But I hope it becomes popular.

Here's the most basic recipe for an egg salad sandwich. Take hard-boiled eggs. Shell them. Mash them. Add mustard, mayo, salt, pepper. Make a sandwich using toasted bread. Enjoy!

Another reason this sandwich should, by rights, be extremely popular in India, is the fact that you can easily add quintessentially Indian spices and make it more flavorful. You can also add different veggies to it, to play around with the texture. That's what I do. I love experimenting with the basic egg salad. I have tried various combinations over the years. Here is my favorite recipe for what is (for me) the perfect Egg Salad Sandwich on Toast:

Recipe (makes 2 sandwiches of 2 toasted bread slices each)

Ingredients:
4 slices of bread
2 eggs hard boiled
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbs mustard (I prefer Dijon, but french mustard works well too)
1 tbsp chopped onion (optional)
1 tbsp chopped bell pepper/capsicum (optional)
Paprika/cayenne/red chili powder (to taste, optional)
Cumin powder (to taste, optional)
Black pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)

Directions:

Egg salad is among the easiest sandwiches to make. You don't need to be an expert on cooking by any means. Even the novice-est of novices can get it right.

The first step is to hard boil eggs.



















The perfect timing and technique for this varies based on the freshness of your egg (surprising fact - slightly stale eggs when boiled are easier to peel than fresh eggs), its size, and how hard you like your egg boiled.



















Peel the egg. Put the peeled eggs in a bowl.


















Now we need to mince the eggs. There are different ways of approaching this. You can just crush a whole egg with a spoon or a spatula.



















Or you can use an egg slicer to first make elegant slices and then mince the egg.



















Eventually, you mince them with a spoon or a spatula. Go to town on 'em. Crush them the way Assad crushes protesters in Syria.



















Now whether you want to go as far as Assad or dial it back like Mubarak depends on your taste. I like to leave some pieces of the egg white intact, roughly 1 cm in size. Personally, I prefer slightly chunkier versions to an egg salad where the entire egg is minced like keema. So my ideal minced eggs look like this.



















From here on, it's as easy as silencing protesters in Bahrain. Let me tell you about the basic ingredients first. You first add 1 tbsp each of mayonnaise and mustard.



















Then you add salt and pepper. Nothing like a pepper grinder to bring out the freshest flavors!





At its most basic, this is egg salad. You can mix the whole shebang, put it between toasts, and you're good to go. But I also like to add onions. And red or green bell pepper (aka capsicum). This time, I added red peppers because that's all I had at home. They tend to be slightly sweet.



















I also like to add red chili powder (or paprika or cayenne depending on your taste) because I like a little heat in my egg salad. Not too much. Just a pinch. I also add a pinch of cumin powder because based on all my experiments, I think that's a spice that goes best with egg salad.



















Then you mix the whole thing together. Stir it, stir it, stir it, stir it, like a polaroid picture! And this is how it looks.



















I know, not very appetizing. But as Shrek said, don't judge me before you taste me.

Next, we toast the bread. You can use a toaster, but I prefer toasting them on a pan, girdle, or as I have done here, a tava. I like 'em nicely browned and crisped!



















Done toasting? Now take a toast, and add a generous helping of the egg salad.



















And when I say generous, I mean really generous! It's egg salad not butter. Lay it on as thick as Fox News. It should be a thick layer, well thicker than the bread itself.  Cover the bread entirely, without letting any salad spill out the edges. Like this. The spartan toast should look overwhelmed by the rich gooey mixture.



















But don't worry about the spartan toast. Its Leonidas is on its way (when the heck did the Arab Spring similes turn into Ancient Greek similes!??). Put the other toast on top. And make sure the egg salad layer is thick like this.



















Next, you can either pounce on the sandwich like the Persians pounced on the Spartans at Thermopylae. Or you can cut the sandwich in two, like Xerxes wanted done with Leonidas.



















There it is. Beautiful, tasty, simple, and nutritious Egg Salad on Toast. Enjoy! I like to position my diagonally cut sandwiches like in the image above and imagine it is the globe from Pacman that I Binky, am attacking. As you can see, all my cooking similes and metaphors have to do with wars and bloodshed. What do to? I am Gandhian that way. Anyway, enjoy the sandwich.

Oh, and if you're like me and savor licking remnants of food off utensils, don't forget the bowl you made the egg salad in.  See this?



















Don't throw it in the sink. Long after you've polished off the sandwiches, working on the remains of that great civilization in the bowl can bring you greater please than archaeologists relishing Greek ruins.