A Fleeting Disappearance but never gone

Chittappa

There could be detected a mischievous gleam in his eye when he described how Erapalli Prasanna deceived a vaunted Australian batting line up. You could also feel his pain when he described how Simpson and Lawry collared the Indian attack. When he spoke about cricket, you listened. The man knew his stuff. He better. For he was a nippy left armer who took 6 wickets for just 1 run in a Universities game. T.V.Viswanathan might not be Curtly Ambrose but his 6 for 1 for me is no less than Curtly’s feat of 7 for 1 at Perth. Even though I was deprived of viewing the former since the event took place even before I was born. Perhaps now we know the source of the Ambrose inspiration!

Today after an indefatigable battle with the insidious beast that is cancer, my Uncle T.V. Viswanathan breathed his last. But not before showing his finger to the disease. That was his character. Adversity just made him stronger. He just did not possess a weak bone in his constitution. Cancer might have got him, but only by resorting to means insidious and unfair.

My memories of Chittappa (the Tamil vernacular for uncle) revolve around cricket, cigarettes and culinary delights. A connoisseur of the game, he distinguished himself as a player. A left arm medium fast bowler (a rarity in itself in India), he devoured 6 hapless batsmen in a University game played in Chennai while conceding just one run. But considering the fact that it was the 1960s where a professional career meant a degree in either Engineering or Medicine, and sans either money or muscle one had no hopes of purveying one’s chosen ambitions, Chittappa had to relinquish his hopes of being a fast bowler and instead concentrate on an engineering degree as his future.

However, the cricketing bug never left the man. A fanatic of the game, he read its every nuance and perfected its last intricacy. From Shane Warne’s flipper to Andy Roberts’ Yorker to G.R.Viswanath’s delectable wristwork, cricket ran in his DNA. Every Indian victory for him was a euphoria and every defeat, an elegy. The man exuded passion. A passion that was raw, unhinged and inveterate.

Chittappa was also my surreptitious nicotine source. Even though I was in Bangalore and Chittappa in Chennai, the vagaries of his  profession ensured that he was in the town of Bidadi most of the time. Which meant, a trip to Bangalore on weekends. These were the days I looked forward with an anticipation that was unbridled. Over copious swigs of Old Monk Rum (Chittappa knew class) and Wills cigarettes, Chittappa used to regale me with seminal games to which he was a witness at Chepauk. Chittappa was also a chef par excellence. In so far as gastronomic delights went, he could pull not just rabbits but elephants out of his formidable hat! Vegetable Nilgriri Kurma was his one specialty that sent me into raptures of delight! Monumental testimony to his culinary prowess was one instance whereby he cooked scrumptious Mutton Biriyani and got it by bus in a cooker! Yes you read that right a bloody cooker!

Chittappa was, rather is, for I can never concede that he is no longer in flesh and blood, a father figure to me. A man, whose needs were so limited so as to make the word frugal sound affluent. Selfless to the core, he was never tainted by the lure of either fame or fortune. He took unbridled delight in making people around him feel happy and contended. I for one, never knew what he desired, for he never expressed his wants.

IMG-20200516-WA0075-1

Yes, he wanted to come and spend some time with me and my parents in Kuala Lumpur. After coaxing, coercing and cajoling him for 8 years, he finally got his passport done. But the bloody bastard of a disease got him before he could get his air tickets. Moreover, the raging pandemic that is COVID-19 put paid to my dreams of hosting Chittappa and being regaled by his explanations of outswingers gone wrong and inswingers beguiling batsmen.

He lead a life that was pure, simple and fundamental. He was almost elemental in his material possessions. He never blamed anyone nor wallowed in self-pity. He knew neither mirth nor materialism.

Today he is gone. Just like that. Like a candle in the wind. A gentle rustle that does not even invoke reactions. But he is not gone. He never will be. He cannot. He has no conceivable right to. He cannot bid goodbye unless and until we order him to. And none of us will. So long as we are living, breathing and existing, Chittappa has to give us company. He does not possess a right to refuse. In cricket speak, he does not have the liberty of a DRS. There is no umpire’s call. He has to be here. He cannot abdicate us and leave us in the lurch. There are still bottles of Old Monks to finish, plethora of chickens to make biriyani from and thousands of leg breaks to scalp hapless batsmen.

Chittappa, I just cannot believe that you left us all and decided to go. Maybe you deemed this was the most appropriate time and maybe you felt the game of cricket could offer you nothing more. But you are wrong. You will continue to be with us so long as we are alive and well. Even though I am in no hurry to meet you and demand an explanation, be assured that when the time comes your grilling will put to shame the ones that are the sole prerogative of the CBI  & RAW!

Till such time sleep well Chittappa and words cannot describe the gratitude that I nurse towards you. If I can be even a fraction of a man that you were, my life would be one well lived. Every time hereon in I happen to nurse a bottle of Scotch, it would be in honour of your legacy, memory and life. I will never ever mourn you but celebrate you. Celebration of a life that is pure, poignant, passionate and profound.

Love You dearest Chittappa! Sleep well. Till such time we meet again. By the way when you meet Harold Larwood just ask him whether Sir Don Bradman was the greatest batsman he had ever bowled to.

To Take or Not To Take – The Hotel Conundrum

Image result for Resort + Creative Common

(Image Credit: Creative Commons)

Over the past two days, social media has been set alight by an incident involving an Indian family on vacation in Bali. Twitter timelines are flooded with a video approximately two and a half minutes in length depicting hotel staff removing objects (including hair driers & hangers) that were apparently ‘pilfered’ by the family. The chastised family can been seen pleading with the Indonesian hotel staff, who in turn are threatening to call the police. In the midst of this unpleasant haranguing, the guests can be heard repeatedly offering to ‘pay’ for the stuff taken from the hotels, and more.

This video, which makes for some obviously unpleasant viewing has triggered a vociferous debate where the revered and the reviled have pitchforked themselves into the fray offering their own take on the incident. The very fact that a deliberation has been spawned to discuss, debate and decide upon whether the family in question and the hoteliers – the two sparring protagonists in the unsavoury fracas – were in the right or wrong, bears monument to the diverging mindsets possessed by society on framing what constitutes right and the defining what is wrong.

On the one spectrum we have the likes of Ms. Sai Swaroopa, noted author and content writer who posted the following emotional tweet:

Sai

While the above logic is flawed on multiple counts, even assuming for the sake of argument, that Ms. Swaroopa is correct, it behooves the question as to why steal something which is to begin with “stupid” and of neither consequence nor worth. Further, boycotting a country or the hotel situated within its territorial jurisdiction is not a solution for preventing this kind of unfortunate episodes. Moreover it is not that the hotel in Bali is going to be rendered bankrupt without an influx of visitors from India.

Against those batting for the family, stand a section that is baying for the offender’s blood. According to the more aggressive opinion, the “shame”, and “disgrace” foisted upon the image of an entire nation requires punishment of a stringent nature.  While television host and actor Mini Mathur found the escapade of the family nauseating, yet another Twitterati called for a public naming and shaming of those involved:

Mini

Priya

Some extremely inventive people also chose to bring into the whole picture a racial angle arguing that if the pilferage was to have been either attempted or pulled off by a non-Indian or even a non Asian family, the hotel staff would not even have deemed it a utilitarian use of their time bothering to check! This interesting although arguable view was given further teeth by a tweet shared by Mr. Harsh Goenka, Chairman of the RPG Group of enterprises. The tweet made reference to an extremely racist notice addressed by a Swiss hotel in Gstaad “specifically to guests from India” on the rules of etiquette to be followed at the buffet tables:

Goenka

Gstaad

At the time of this writing, it is reliably learnt that the Hotel has tendered an apology – as it should rightfully have done a long time back. In an article published by the web site travelskills.com and titled “Which Nationality Steals Most From Hotels”, it is comforting for an Indian to note that India does not make the list of the top 10 usual suspects. Even though the article is dated 8th June, 2015, there is no need to suspect that India would have made an astonishing ascent leaping over the rungs of this ladder of infamy!

In the defense of the service providers it would be an injustice if it is not mentioned that most of the times, it is the servicing personnel who bear the brunt of the rants and raves of ‘unsatisfied’ and ‘disgruntled’ customers. Social media becomes a platform of convenience for highlighting in an unsparing manner the inadequacies, intransigence and insouciance of the hosts towards their guests. Hence when a guest becomes either abusive or engages in an inappropriate act such as the one in question here, it is “payback” time!

All of which brings us to this most important and urgent question of what can be done to ameliorate or even reverse this regressive practice of impulsive pocketing of seemingly trivial stuff, although in the current instance, some of the materials stuffed into briefcases ranged beyond toiletries alone. It is not that the people who engage in such practices come from deprived or under privileged backgrounds. Spending significant sums of money to fly, sail or drive across countries and even continents, incurring -or even splurging – material sums on accommodation, recreation and entertainment, the tourists cannot scour for sympathy that has at its spine monetary constraints. In fact, a man in the video in question can be heard loudly proclaiming possessing or owning a sum of Rs.50 lakhs. If this was to be the case then where was the need to indulge in such a shameful and totally avoidable act?

Irrespective of nationality or background, it is qualitative traits and attributes such as perception and upbringing that matter. Unless the concept of “whatever is rightfully not ours should not remain with us and should never be our preserve” gets drummed into collective brains from a young age, such incidents would continue to recur. More over measures such as counselling for travelers prior to their embarkation to a new geography and imparting of particular codes of conduct that are more a necessity than de riguer by authorities such as the visa processing staff at airports, ports and land clearing stations would greatly assist as well. While all these may sound like fundamental tenets of common sense, one would be surprised to note how uncommon common sense can be at times! Best of all, curricula in schools and colleges should include a segment on global etiquette and behaviour. While this measure should not be construed as ad implemented in a fashion neither regimental nor canonical, it should serve the basic purpose of equipping travelers to fully assimilate the philosophy of thinking global but acting local.

Finally coming back to the current issue under discussion, the last thing we ought to be doing as responsible citizens is circulating the inglorious video without discretion, thereby making it go viral. Naming and Shaming is not the solution at all and in fact such an act may have tragic and unimaginable consequences. The video also has two young girls looking on in a bemused fashion. The trauma which they would be (if they have not already) undergoing as a result of the societal stigma associated with the entire episode should not also be discounted. The stain of humiliation might lead the humiliated to undertake measures that are impulsive, spontaneous, unthinking and quite often tragic.

Hence let us just stop debating over this entire incident and move on. There are a thousand other more pressing issues that require our collective imagination and concerted action.

Vande Mataram: To Sing Or Not to Sing


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Will Launch 'New Look' Vande Mataram, Says Kamal Nath, Slammed For Move

The ludicrous decision by the newly elected Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Kamal Nath to break away from a time bound tradition, of singing “Vande Mataram” in the Madhya Pradesh Secretariat smacks of grandstanding and reeks of petty politics. While trying to unravel the figments of imagination, constituting the preserve of either the Chief Minister or his Party would be an exercise in futility, there is no doubt that by resorting to this knee jerk initiative, the Congress Party has eroded its credibility to a significant extent. The singing of “Vande Mataram” neither constitutes a political ideology nor party propaganda. In fact, while the practice of singing this wonderful creation of the legendary Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in the secretariat on the first working day of every month, in Madhya Pradesh, might have been instituted by the BJP, the egregious Mr. Kamal Nath seems to have been completely oblivious of the fact that the first two verses of the song were adopted as the National Song of India in October 1937 by the Congress Working Committee. So in the process of vainly trying to obfuscate the legacy of the BJP, Mr. Kamal Nath has firmly shot himself in the foot.

Mr. Kamal Nath has been quoted as saying, “It is wrong to do politics on Vande Mataram. They do politics on everything from Ram temple to Vande Mataram. I condemn this. I will give a new ‘roop’ (look) to Vande Mataram.” At the outset by preferring to part from tradition, it is Mr. Kamal Nath who has courted controversy and ignited an unwarranted and a totally avoidable debate. To ascribe the singing of a National Song to the convenience and expediency of a rival party bears monumental testimony to an attitude that is immature and a mindset that is prejudicial. Further, a song which has been embellished by its creator in a form in which it was intended to be conceptualized does not require a resurrection. Hence India is not looking for a brash, unthinking and insensitive Chief Minister to lend a new “roop” to its national song which its populace has whole heartedly embraced with pride, dignity and patriotism.

Yes Mr. Kamal Nath is absolutely right when he acclaims that a mere singing of “Vande Mataram” on the first day of each month does not infuse a citizen with patriotism. Going by this logic, does it require the hoisting of the national flag twice a year accompanied by a reverberating and passionate singing of “Jana Gana Mana” to invest in every Indian the tenet of patriotism? Do we inculcate a frenzied love for our nation only on Independence and Republic Days? For sixty years various Prime Ministers from Mr. Kamal Nath’s own party have been embracing this tradition. So how about stopping the practice of singing the National Anthem on Independence Day and perhaps even imposing a ban on hoisting the tri-colour? That would really be providing some “roop” to culture and national tradition!

In the avant garde cult horror movie Dr. Caligari (1989), a doctor experiments with her patients at the C.I.A (Caligari Insane Asylum), where she transfers glandular brain fluids from one patient to another. By the end of the film the patient becomes the doctor, the doctor becomes the patient and the inmates are left running the asylum.

Before Madhya Pradesh becomes a basket case for irrational experiments, hope its Chief Minister sees the light of the day.

I am Scared

I feel scared. Every single moment I spend in her company makes time irrelevant and space insignificant. The future becomes reducible and the past a forgettable inevitability. Seconds coalesce into minutes, which in turn melt into hours. Yet time stands still. The hands of the clock might tick away bowing to the pressures of Physics and logic, yet the elemental aspects of time do not observe neither Science nor Standards. It is just serendipity. That is what scares me.

Untouched by Janus and blessed by Dike, she is a symbol of fascinating truth and fecund transparency. Shouting out her views yet subservient to reason, she both shocks and soothes. I feel scared. She is the Portia of dogged resolve, and the delightful Elizabeth Bennet of immortal fame. As insecure as Scarlett O’ Hara yet possessing the steely nerves of Sonya Marmeladova, she is a delightful paradox. This is what both inspires and scares me.

Bringing out the child in me and yet making me aware of my hesitant and insecure conscience, she conflates my triumphs and tribulations into one moment of surreal peace. It is this very peace that makes me scared. Oblivious to pain and ignorant of pleasure, I am transported to a realm that is so pure that no conflicting emotions are allowed entry into that sacred domain. This is precisely why time stands still and space loses significance. It is this purity that scares me. It is this very domain across whose threshold I am wary of stepping. Yet with hands spread apart she beckons. With eyes brimming with meaning she reckons. But I feel scared.

She is so near yet so distant. I know not whether to fear the proximity or the aloofness. While the remoteness makes me crave, the immediacy produces a chill that runs right down my spine. What is it that I am afraid of? The fact that I will never be able to possess her or the possibility that she would invariably be mine? Hell is when she moves away from my vicinity, but is it heaven when she beseeches me to spend a wee bit more time with her drinking and not head home in a haste? It is this conundrum that scares me. With sparkling eyes speaking a thousand words, having for punctuations a luscious cascade of wavy hair, she is an epic of indelible meaning and irrepressible form. It is this very form that makes me vulnerable and this very meaning that has me in a bind. Yes, I feel scared.

More intoxicating than any brew, yet possessing an influence that is sobering, she leads me into territories unchartered yet traversed from time immemorial. Bestowing me with the license to dream, she also reigns me in when those dreams take on proportions unrealistic and dimensions unconstrained. It is this very balance that scares me. In her presence I am an eagle that soars uninhibited with regal wings spread apart; In her closeness, I am an idea whose time has certainly come; I see my future in her smile and chart out my destiny in her laugh. Each time she throws back her head and loses herself in her peal of uninhibited, unrestricted and unshackled laughter, it is as if I am holding a mirror to my very conscience. And it is this conscience that has me all scared.

I think; I conjure; I ponder; I speculate; I surmise; I despair; I pine; I judge; I deign; I decide; I wander; I shirk; I expand; I wither; I blossom. More than anything else I HOPE. It is this very hope that drives and demands; propels and pleads; enthuses and enervates; motivates and mars. But ultimately it this very hope that keeps me going and makes me live.

I feel scared.

A Night at the Cinema – A Blunder unforgettable & a mayhem to savour

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After what seemed to be an interminable wait following a never ending sequence of advertisements irritable (a KFC ad showing in obnoxious detail 8 different ways in which a chicken could be bit into), and trailers insipid (gangsters and ghosts contended so much for the bragging rights for the next release that at times the distinguishing lines between the two were blurred), the lights finally dimmed and the screen adjusted itself to the usual size befitting a cinemascope. The determined crunching of popcorn and the contended slurping of carbonated drinks served as appetizers of anticipation. However, the fact that Ashita and I were seated in unenviable seats occupying the second row from the screen did not make for a setting that could be termed comfortable. Craning our necks and looking straight up, we were like a pair of excited storks gawking at the launch of Apollo 13! Only the launch time of Apollo 13 was approximately 2 hours shorter than our positional inevitability.

Ashita

When the movie finally started, there was virtual mayhem and a comical melee in the cinema hall. An absent minded professor and/or a dimwit (and everything in between) had projected the WRONG movie (yes you read it right!). Instead of the originally scheduled Varun Dhawan-Anushka Sharma starrer ‘Sui Dhaga – Made In India’, Cinema Hall No.1 belonging to Golden Screen Cinemas in Nu Sentral Mall, Kuala Lumpur decided on an unpopular whim that the audience deserved to watch a Tamil movie titled “Ekantham” (Loneliness) instead! Imagine the consternation of a packed and hollering crowd at the Eden Gardens, when after winning the toss and electing to bat, India sends in Venkatesh Prasad striding out to open the batting instead of Sachin Tendulkar!

However, the ill timed attempt to inculcate a sense of ‘loneliness’ amongst a band of tired homo sapiens backfired as a miffed mob hurtled its way out the exit doors to find, explain and educate the culprit. Hopefully, a forceful massage and a couple of discounted bones were not on the menu! Extremely keen to both participate in the action and vent her frustration, Ashita sprung out of her seat a la Jack In The Box and turning her gaze in a direction which she had decided was where the projector was located, commenced shrieking “It’s the wrong movie” over and over again. Although no credible or tangible purpose was accomplished by this hollering, she sure gained ample attention and more than succeeded in triggering a herd mentality. “It’s the wrong movie” became such a vociferous and addictive chant that for a few fleeting seconds, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” was in danger of experiencing unfortunate and spontaneous oblivion!

Before proceeding to highlight the manner in which (if at all) the linguistic predicament of a hundred confused souls was resolved, it is apposite to write a few lines about Ashita. If at all anyone deserves to be feted by Bollywood for nursing an unshakable faith in their production lines, it has to be Ashita. Since the time she has been capable of possessing a memory and the faculty of speech, there has not been a single Hindi movie that has escaped either her prying eyes or her prodigious memory. In fact, she can hold forth and wax eloquent over movies the nuances of which even the actors have either forgotten (conveniently) or ended up wishing that they had forgotten (regrettably)! For a person like me who occasionally visits the cinema, motivated more by the prospects of collecting a superhero water bottle (that comes along with a ridiculously expensive and vile tasting popcorn combo) than by the on screen antiques, Ashita is an unparalleled wonder to behold!

Captain

The pandemonium was now taking on comical proportions. While one half of the crowd was jeering yet keeping their eyes locked on the patterns that “Loneliness” was taking on the screen, (after all who does not want to see a cinema for free, even if the actors are rattling about in Swahili), the rest were, with their backs to the cinema waving arms, clenching fists, standing upon chairs and generally yelling whatever were the first words that came to them. I would not have been one bit surprised if I had heard cries of “Sachin Sachin” punctuated with “Inqlaab Zindabad!” The confusion finally came to a merciful conclusion when the by now chastised and hopefully all-bones-in-piece personnel manning the projector took off the Tamil movie and projected the Yash Raj films banner on the silver screen. It was 30 minutes beyond the originally stipulated show time.

But it was thirty minutes the likes of which I had never ever experienced in my lifetime. It was thirty minutes of gathering uncertainties, gallivanting human emotions and more than anything else, gloriously gregarious Ashita!

Even ‘Sui Dhaga’ could not have been tailored to accord such imperfect perfections!

Jay Gatsby with all his frailties

Gatsby

If ever I am given the choice to be transformed into a literary character, it would sans a semblance of any doubt, be Jay Gatsby. Yes, you read that right! Not the morally upright Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or the immortal Holden Caufield of “Catcher In The Rye“. With all the raised eyebrows, rankled emotions and reverberating objections, it would still be Jay Gatsby of “The Great Gatsby“.

F Scott Fitzgerald’s controversial albeit vulnerable character excites and exasperates his readers while being the very epitome of human emotions and paradoxes.  “If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.” When professing his undying love for Daisy, Gatsby in spite of realising that there is no way out for his venture into the deepest recession of human emotions, still elects to pursue his chosen course of action. The recalcitrant heart prevails over the rational head.

Gatsby is a pack of pernicious lies; Gatsby is a charade of false assurances; Gatsby is a walking machine of deception, but more than anything else, Gatsby is a helpless prisoner of destiny and a child of inevitable fate. To paraphrase Fitzgerald, “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.” This almost naive belief of Gatsby at once makes him a consummate liar as well as a confused (confounded even) child.

Gatsby’s outward portrayal of affluence and effervescence is but an innocent and deliberate charade for acceptance. An acceptance that has as its edifice the dangerous element of love, an undying love for Daisy Buchanan, his muse,  his aspiration and his very objective for living.  Gatsby shows a dangerous willingness to go to any lengths and indulge in any activity to further his insatiable love for Daisy. It is this mindless and at the same time perfectly understandable paradox that lends Gatsby his rightful place in the Hall of Immortal Literary Fame.

Gatsby’s external masochistic presence grapples with his true and inner frailty and miserably fails in the ultimate conflict. A man who is the epitome of manliness, massacre and mayhem is in actuality a gullible bundle of apprehension, fear and failure. It is this bewildering paradox of gullible human emotions that endears Gatsby to me. The true Jay Gatsby is a totally and unfortunately misunderstood character rather than an affluent brat showing his finger to the world.

Gatsby is not so much fixated with repeating the past as reclaiming it. He desires to make the journey to that ethereal, magical moment when he welded all of his aspirations and dreams to Daisy in Louisville, and also to make that past moment his present . It also means redeeming his wrongs by possessing Daisy once again and forever!

Hence given an opportunity to metamorphose into a literary character, I will choose Jay Gatsby without even batting an eyelid. I may as well be the grist for the mill of human emotion rather than be an artificial and confirming relic of stereotypes and lethargic conventions. To paraphrase the mercurial Kurt Cobain, “It is better to burn out than to fade away.”

(WORD COUNT: 582)

THIS POST IS WRITTEN FOR NOVEMBERSCHILD IN ASSOCIATION WITH KALAMPEDIA – QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE”.