Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I just finished reading Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse. As ever, it was a most enjoyable reading experience. Regardless of the fact that the plot contained little new, and the humour was the same and the people immediately familiar. Though, I must say that this novel looks at life and baseball in the US of A, and contains some exquisite comparisons between the two batty games, things which are somewhat newish to one who has been long in Jeeves-Wooster-Ukridge-Blandings-Psmith fold.

I think it is the sameness that is most enduring and attractive part of the Wodehouse works. There is no possibility of anything nasty happening, you are always sure that everything will end happily, people who want to marry will marry, people who accidentally get engaged will be disengaged, theft of various articles from cow-creamers to the pig Empress of Blandings will yield fruitful results. Most importantly, you will get a glimpse of a life which is now impossible. The idyllic settings of country houses and city clubs, faithful butlers and fantastic escapades, easy living and little thinking (no terrorism or such violence, no worries about work-pressure, no spousy arguments), the only fear in existence is of scheming rivals in pig-competitions and rich aunts – such is the stuff many dreams are made of. Dreams of decent and witty people – I should hastily add – not of those who dream of power and glory and money! This is no insidious Wildean satire, this is no social-evil-mirroring comedy of manners, nor Shavian close-shaves – what this is perhaps the only genuine good-hearted, good-humoured, good-natured look at life and things like it. This is the proverbial underneath of greenwood tree, truly far from the madding crowd.

What is also surprising, even in this pre-everything time, is that men and women are mostly on the same page (forgive my usage, could not help using this idiomatic idiocy). Mr Wodehouse is as fair as one can be. True, he has gentleman suitors and vague blondes, but he has equally powerful females and equally vague Gussy Fink-Nottle types. Here women are rescued by men, men are rescued by women, men and women rescued from each other. Romances are sometimes complicated and sometimes as easy as shouting “My mate!” and taking the other into one’s bosom! In our days of idiotic hustle and bustle and rustle, this is the medicine. Though I never wish life should have been like this, but why not partially, why not at times?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Culture in Anarchy

Modern popular (and academic) criticism has this habit of bracketing everything with broad labels. We went to see a movie the other day and I was telling my friend that certain parts of it were rather loud. [I did leave the cinema hall with a splitting headache, unfortunately this is the condition of mono-screen old fashioned cinema houses!] This friend is a lot younger than me; as a matter of fact once upon a time he was a student of mine. I am very fortunate that over the years many of my students have graduated into my friends. He pointed out politely that there is nothing wrong with ‘loud’ – we may prefer subtle, we may pretend sophistication, but if someone likes the raucous and flashy then where is the harm? The terms ‘loud’ or ‘melodramatic’ have been branded bad by people who have decided the good – such constructions are rather unfair. Turning the popular into the other has been a tendency of academia for ever. The fact that something is a ‘hit’ is a surefire sign that it is not intellectual! I don’t know about the rest of the world but here in India we certainly have all this nonsense about mainstream and parallel. People who cannot achieve a decent execution always want to justify themselves at the cost of the other type. Alright, not all can become Shakespeares or Rabindranaths or Bernard Shaws, but that does not mean that offence-defence ideal should rule. No type should be good or bad. They should exist and be respected.

The same thing applies to urban and folk-cultures. Nowadays folk has become a fad, but at one time it was almost as bad as the other four-letter word starting with ‘f’ and ending with ‘k’ (not really, I am exaggerating folks, couldn’t really resist the temptation. Anyway what the other letter means is not bad at all is it? Problems arise only when you turn it into an expletive). We now have folk-fusions, in the hand of tune/word stealers, it becomes con-fusions. Of course, the philosophy now is there is no need of any philosophy, anything that sells is good, anything that sells to the greater number of people is for the greater good of a small number of sellers. But the point of fact remains how is folk to be defined? Everything coming from a rural sector? Everything that seems ever so slightly rustic?

One critic had written that Superman is the ultimate US folk-hero. The Beatles are supposed to be folksy. And then there is this term urban-folk. Again the country and the city divide which Mr Raymond Williams had so aptly pointed out years ago. You know, I myself am confused. I believe in classification. But when did taxonomy become a comparative scale to be used by a bunch of non-creative scholars who think the world of themselves. Such condescending attitudes, such patronizing always makes me mad. Folk is popular by definition, that is why it is less respectable – have you ever heard anything so ridiculous.

This whole thing requires a lot of thought. Popular should not be non-intellectual. But intellectual should not be non-popular. There is a lot of pseudo-intellectual stuff which takes itself very seriously. Nobody else does. It is time that is understood, and understood mostly by the so called culture-vultures.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Plane and Simple

Plane Plane Plane, Pilot Plane,
Down the steps came Suchitra Sen,

O Mrs Sen,
What is in your bag?

“Mutton Curry for Uttam,
Don’t be such a nag!”

Once upon a time, flying as a mode of travel was for the elite within the financial elite. It was for the glamorous people. As the little poem from our childhood (freely translated) suggests, only stars like Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar, in their very sixties and seventies sunglasses, were expected to walk down the portable stairs leading to Fokker Friendships or Super Constellations. Of course, even shady people, also in sixties and seventies shades, were expected to fly! Air travel was tremendously expensive, there were fewer planes, and I suppose people had more time. The difference between plane fares and train fares were huge. If a ticket from our city to Delhi cost Rs. 500/- in the deluxe air-conditioned coaches, the corresponding plane fare would be around Rs. 5000/- (this bit of info is pure guesswork, though I am sure the actual figures are quite similar).

Then came the flying boom. There were cheaper airlines offering cheap tickets. The idea was good, they cut cost in the hospitality section. Who bothers about food on a two hour flight! Friendly smiles from Air Hostesses were enough. This of course you could rarely get from the official Indian airline – which I still believe is a kind of rehab home for aged air hostesses. Sorry, I am being massively politically incorrect, but being politically correct (since no politician ever bothers to be so) can be such a bore sometimes. I firmly believe in one definition of friendship – “Friends are people with whom you need not be politically (in any form of politics) correct.” As you can guess this very wise definition is all Sidhubaba’s.

The cheaper airlines also cut costs as far as ticketing was concerned. No counters, no salespeople. All you need is internet and a printer and a credit card. Print your own tickets and you are ready to fly. But this boom came a little late. Or, rather, the oil prices soared a little too fast. Now again we are back to the first square. Flying is again expensive. Even if the base fare is Rs. 1/-, you have to pay somewhere around Rs. 2800/- with the taxes and surcharges (surcharge = surreal charge?) and so on.

Good thing too. Our skies were getting too crowded. In the last couple of months there were at least three reports of near misses in the sky. Can you imagine a midair collision! Wonderful isn’t it. How big a sky do we need? Speaks volumes about our efficiency and equipments. I wonder if Air Traffic Control also falls under the almost militant all powerful CITU! Also the airports were becoming too small. No proper facilities! People were actually standing or sitting on the floor! Flights were being delayed. I remember waiting for 3½ hours because the flight did not have runway clearance. The actual time of travel was 1 hour. The total time taken from reaching the source airport and leaving the destination airport was something around seven hours. This included the baggage delays and shouting at taxi drivers.

I love to fly. But flying in a system of air traffic jams is becoming scary. Not that I will not jump at the next opportunity of a cheap ticket, but trains do have their charm. Why not use this wonderful facility where you can spend days sleeping eating in a moving and rocking train as if it was your own household. There are problems, hazards, risks. But what exists without them? In UK they were thoroughly impressed when they learnt we have overnight express trains, and were thoroughly appalled when I told them that some journeys take more than 48 hours. You see, if you start from any end of UK and travel in an express train for 48 hours, you will be in the middle of the sea!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Unfortunate Bugger

A Czech scientist collecting insects from the Singalila National Park was arrested because such collecting is not allowed by Indian Laws regarding Conservation.

It is wonderful that this gentleman was actually apprehended, though it is my guess he had the best of intentions in mind. Singalila National Park is not the best known Conservation in the country, neither is it at all glamorous. Situated just off Siliguri it is one place where no one I know has ever visited. Trust me; people I know have visited everywhere (Antarctica excepted). Apart from a few signboards it is difficult to know that it is a Reserve Forest. So I guess this scientist just walked in it absent-mindedly, having all his concentration on the insects. It is difficult to shift from the minute to the macro with the velocity of Speedy Gonzales. Of course, there might be a host of other reasons why this man was apprehended. He might be an international man of mystery and so on and so forth, and if he is a colleague of James Bond why should he be excused for collecting bugs? You never know where he will place this bugs and what kind of info he might collect!

The magnitude of his crime is gradually sinking in. First of all he probably had scientific intentions in mind; second, he entered the forest unaware of the law of the land (a crime in itself); then he tampered with the basic fauna. Well, just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. It isn’t as if he stole a couple of trees or such, neither did he harm a few Royal Bengals – which are rarely noticed. Millions of trees are stolen each year from our forests, mostly by foresters. The tiger population is practically nil compared to earlier times. Rhinos are being found dead so frequently that it makes the head spin. But these are regular, hence not necessary to notice, occurrences. Of course, in a country where human beings lie dying and the system does not allow anybody to do anything, why should there be any special treatment for sub-human species! If you try to help then the whole system would try to stop you burying you in red tape and other harassments. You might end up becoming the criminal in the process.

So this initiative to stop debugging seems refreshing. Bugs are an integral part of the system. Without them where will we be?
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