Friday, 31 March 2006

Question for the day

If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do libertarians eat?

(: Just a hangover from making libertarian jokes with some of the Cartel the other day. And I have to admit theirs were better. :)

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Yup

An excerpt from the prologue to Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny
Civilisational or religious partitioning of the world population yields a ‘solitarist’ approach to human identity, which sees human beings as members of exactly one group…This can be a good way of misunderstanding nearly everyone in the world. In our normal lives, we see ourselves as members of a variety of groups – we belong to all of them. The same person can be, without any contradiction: an American citizen, of Caribbean origin, with African ancestry, a Christian, a liberal, a woman, a vegetarian, a long-distance runner, a historian, a schoolteacher, a novelist, a feminist, a heterosexual, a believer in gay and lesbian rights, a theatre lover, an environmental activist, a tennis fan, a jazz musician, and someone who is deeply committed to the view that there are intelligent beings in outer space with whom it is extremely urgent to talk (preferably in English). Each of these collectivities, to all of which this person simultaneously belongs, gives her a particular identity. None of them can be taken to be the person’s only identity or singular membership category.
[Ripped off from Jai's excellent review (with more extracts), which you can read here.]

Monday, 27 March 2006

We're mature, we are


It is quite unlike us to forget to gloat, so we can't imagine how we forgot to mention that we found this on sale on the last evening of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, with a nice, chunky discount too. Heavy as sin, not the kind of book you can curl up in bed with (the weight on your chest would asphyxiate all but the Indian Steroids Weightlifting Team), so sadly, not one we are physically capable of reading at the moment, but at least we can – metaphorically – caper around saying "Nyaa nyanya nyaaa nyaa."

Er, no, we didn't get the signed edition. That was just the easiest pic to find on the New Yorker store.

Sunday, 26 March 2006

To a bad writer

There’s nothing I can say to you,
Though for kindly words I grope.
There’s little anyone can do,
You’re really past all hope.

Don’t write no more, you really shouldn’t,
It’s not your special talent.
At least I really wish you wouldn’t
Insist that I should comment.

I’m well brought up – well, yeah, repressed –
I’d prefer to not be harsh,
But your writing makes me, um, depressed;
I break out in a rash.

Your poems are wooden, your stories suck,
Your essays are simply boring.
And your learned critical remarks
Give rise to instant snoring.

When others with just one are glad,
You shove in three adjectives...
Which wouldn’t really be that bad
If your spelling wasn’t defective.

(Let me guess, you poor sad creature:
Too many students in your class?
Is that why your English teacher
Didn’t whup your arse?)

Your original contributions
Are the commas between the cliches.
Your characters and plots are thin,
As solid as papier-mâché.

The emotions you present as new
We outgrew in our teens.
We paid our debts. You’re overdue.
You write beyond your means.

Probably the most pompous poem we have ever written. But it's not what it sounds like. It's a work in progress, a version of which was written for and read at a Caferati Bombay Read-Meet, where the trigger was “Clichés.” Once we started, it wouldn't stop. :)

Before we inflict our own on you

A little over a year ago, I sent James Tate's Dream On to several friends. One of them sent me this reply, which I reproduce here with permission, but no, sorry, I'm not allowed to reveal the poet's name.

Saturday, 25 March 2006

Thursday, 23 March 2006

Pole-dancing on the Hooghly

'Twas the weekend. One was shooting the breeze, via Gtalk, with a certain popular bureaucrat.

Ahem, he says, looking at his watch (how did we know? his tone said so. he's an eloquent chap, this gent), parting is such sweet sorrow, but one has Social Obligations.

Ah, we nod, thinking to ourself that it must be one of those sophisticated soiree things we never get invited to.

Now, the truth is out.

J.A.P., we hear, has been spreading sweetness and light and generally stepping high, wide and plentiful.

Sunday, 19 March 2006

Glen View



My favourite shot of the trip. Slow shutter speed, camera braced against a tree, deep breath and all that. This is one of MP Tourism's converted colonial bungalows.

what goes up


Before the fall.

[Picture by Kedar Bhat]

Friday, 17 March 2006

Boys' Own


A football dangles in front of the goal.
The accuracy the male guests are capable of is now on the line and they have to "KICK" the ball into the goal.

Bull’s eye! And the ball changes colorur.
A lot of fun for top goal scorers!
Read on.

Slurp

Thursday, 16 March 2006

Lines we have heard many times in the last couple of days (some, we confess, we have used ourselves), and have no desire to hear again.

It's a pain in the butt, na?

Laughing My Arse Off. Oops. Sorry. Mwahahaha.

Butt.. Hehehehe.

Butt naturally.. Hehehehe.

Bum deal, boss. Hehehehe.

Bummer. Hnphhsnickerhehehehe.

So, if you would make us the butt of your humour, pliss to try harder, hm?

Yes. Sigh. Comments are open. We are in a masochistic mood. Yes, we will turn the other cheek.
Update: Rahul's in pretty much the same, um, position.

Tum ti tum

An army marches on its stomach, as the Little Corporal said. With the current state of our fundament, our multiple personalities and widening girth, and the relentless assault of deadlines, that is now true of this blog.

When, a while ago, we got ourselves all gussied up and broadbanded, we made the ISP-walla give us much more cable length than we needed, so we have the laptop now installed on our sleeping mat, and are typing this with chin propped up on pillows. Such is our dedication to thee, Gentle Reader.

Also, we're bored silly.

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Wanted: new media writers

The kind who are messing around with technology to tell their tales in interesting ways. People who are using things like hyperfiction or podcasts. Who are videoblogging their performance poetry, perhaps. Or playing with blogs in interesting ways. Or doing stuff that's way too cutting edge for an old fashioned blogger like me to grok. It doesn't matter if they're established writers playing with new toys or newcomers with potential.

Preferably, people from Bombay.

Why do I need these people?

Well, Crossword is hosting a mini-LitFest just before their Book Awards. And I'm going to be moderating a session, one that will focus on new media and how writers can use and are using them. It's on the playbill as Traditional Words vs New Media.

Why Bombay?

There isn't much of a budget. :)

Do let me know. ASAP, pretty please. The gab fest is scheduled for the 20th March.

PM, IM, SMS. Oh yes, you could also mail, or even gasp, call. :)

Pain in the butt

Note to self: don't tempt fate. The "back-breaking" remark in the previous post? Almost proved prophetic.

We, in the course of said assignment, decided it was about time we faced up to our vertigo. So we took a deep breath and took a parasailing run. Spent most of flight staring, as if hypnotised, at the Gypsy doing the towing, and wondering what would happen if the driver hit a bump or the engine cut off and such like. Came the landing, and we, concentrating hard, put our best foot forward.. only to have it slide on contact with the grass. The Gypsy continued to move forward, the chute still billowed behind, so one was suspended 'twixt the two for a brief second.

But then the jeep was slowing down, and the chute was collapsing too, so one's ample butt met ground with some force. Said ampleness was apparently not enough cushioning to compensate for speed of descent, and being dragged a few feet, so our tailbone is more than a little bruised. Staying seated for very long is a bit of a problem. Expect a drop in post frequency for a bit, you lucky things. At least till we get our pictures uploaded. [Update: here ya go.]

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Auto-reply

This blog is away for the weekend. It will be catching a train tonight to go off and do back-breaking journalistic assignment of great import..

Heh. Sorry. Can't keep a straight face. We're gonna be at Pachmarhi, where we will laze for a few days, now and then asking a few questions and taking notes, while the photographer goes off and does the energetic things photographers do.

If there's anything urgent, please contact.. oh, anyone else.

Except for Windows, of course

Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image. The less time and effort you spend worrying about your equipment the more time and effort you can spend creating great images. The right equipment just makes it easier, faster or more convenient for you to get the results you need.
So says Ken Rockwell, in this rather nice essay. He goes on to tell you that "The camera's only job is to get out of the way of making photographs" and this:
What happens is that for the first 20 years or so that you study any art you just know that if you had a better instrument, camera or surfboard that you would be just as good as the pros. You waste a lot of time worrying about your equipment and trying to afford better. After that first 20 years you finally get as good as all the other world-renowned artists, and one day when someone comes up to you asking for advice you have an epiphany where you realize that it's never been the equipment at all.
And he quotes Ernst Haas thusly:
Leica, schmeica. The camera doesn't make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, you have to SEE.
and
Best wide-angle lens? Two steps backward.
Hm, we've been contemplating buying ourselves a new camera, since our old Minolta point-and-shoot is now showing signs of age after more than fifteen years of faithful service. We're sad. We got some good pictures outa the little sweetheart. But now, perhaps, we shall bow to technology, skip the SLR stage and go straight to digital. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Happy New Year Mr Advani

In 1990, Mr Advani did his famous Yatra. A few years later, an old masjid was brought down, riots convulsed Bombay twice, and the city survived a series of bomb blasts. Some things about this city changed then. And it's never been quite the same. We wrote a letter at that time, intending to send it to a newspaper. Which we never did – various people who we respected very much advised against it. And there were no blogs then. But hey, we have them now, and Mr A is setting off on another Yatra (is it a coincidence that there are assembly election around the corner? naaah..). So, as proof that though we're older, we're not wiser, we thought we'd inflict this on you. This was written post the riots, but before the blasts.

Bombay, January 1993


Dear Mr Advani,

How’s life treating you? I don’t expect a reply, but one asks these things.

Over here, it’s been a little grim. But you know that. At least I hope you do.

I have this theory that it has something to do with the full moon.

In December, in the city that never sleeps, a perfectly round, silver disc illuminated deserted city streets. It didn’t discriminate. It lit Mohammed Ali Road as brightly as it did Shivaji Park. Indoors, people peeked out of their windows and watched the BBC. Those with phones stayed near them. Those who didn’t even have homes just shrank further into the shadows.

And all of us, wherever we lived, when we talked, we whispered.

As the moon waned, calm returned to the surface. But just beneath, something dark and ugly lurked. Unseen, nameless, but tangible. A tension, a fear, a something in the air. So thick it could be cut with a knife. Or a bullet.

Then someone lit a match.

And the melting pot boiled over. Once more the full moon bore unbiased witness. It was one of the very few impartial things that happened to Bombay that week.

Scientists have linked some facets of animal behaviour to the phases of the moon. Some human behaviour too, or so I remember reading. Me, I’m going to tread very warily come the next full moon.

When I take a local train home late at night and I’m feeling brave enough to keep the metal shutters up, things are very different. For one, the trains are empty. And the city is much brighter these days. First flames pushed back the darkness. They’ve died down now, though the embers still glow in our minds. And the huts that lined the tracks, they’re different too. Where just a few stray beams struggled to escape the squalor, there are 100 watt bulbs, even halogen lamps, like the ones that light the stage in a political rally. They push back the shadows of fear, and like spotlights, they pick out in high relief the faces of frightened men, young and old. Men who are taking it in turns to sleep. As their shifts end, they pass on the sticks with which they guard their meagre possessions and their lives, like batons in some macabre relay.

Some places are still dark though. Homes stood there once. Made of plastic sheets, flattened tin cans, pieces of thermacol, packing crates, but people lived in them, worked in them, procreated and died in them. Now there’s just rubble and ash. And some illusions someone left behind.

I may have misled you earlier. Not all trains are empty. Some are very full indeed. The one going out of town. For what must be the first time in centuries, more people are leaving this island city than are coming in. Most don’t ever want to return. More Bombay’s loss than theirs. The city of dreams has become a nightmare.

There are these signs out, sanctified by the likeness of a deity at the top, warning people not to buy things from traders with other religious affiliations. And some quasi-criminals, in a glorious display of impartiality, are demanding - and getting - protection money from every community.

This is just an aside: once bearded chins are now bare. Just to avoid any cases of mistaken identity.

Besides these little things, we’re back to a semblance of normalcy. You see, in this city, no matter what god we worship or placate, we all have another one in common. The Rupee.

So we bustle and we hustle, turning paving stones to gold. But there’s a difference.

We jump at loud sounds. We scan what we can see of the sky for smoke. We peer at other people’s newspapers to confirm the things we see in ours. We watch what we’re saying, and to whom. And you know, what’s most unusual of all is that I haven’t heard a single joke about all this. We used to laugh at everything once.

We’re not free anymore.

Except for about about 700 of us (the official figure).

So happy new year, Mr Advani. Sorry that this is a little late, but you see we’ve been having a few problems here. I’m sure you’ll understand.

We wish you a peaceful new year. Sleep well each night. If you can.

Sincerely

Kaapi with Neha

Neha Viswanathan's going to be in town.

Some of you may know her as one of the SEA-EAT blog team, others as a Desi Pundit contributor, others as the Global Voices South-East Asia editor, others as one of the people who spell Tamil 'Tamizh.'

Yennyway. She's only here for a couple of days, and has the evening of the 30th March free. She wanted to meet up with a few Bombay Bloggers. We're aiming for somewhere equally [in]convenient for every one, so it's probably going to be Bandra, and very likely the Carter Road Cafe Coffee Day.

Let me know if you can make it. And if you know of anyone who'd like to join in.

Update Charu's gonna be there for sure, she says, with a giant Madras-style cutout, coconuts and garlands. It's the what-Delhi-does-we-can-do-better thing. :) Also confirmed: Yazad, Dilip, Amit, Akshay. Maybe: Chandrahas.

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

Varanasi Blasts

Several friends have mailed, messaged or called to ask about this. Here's what I could get from a fair amount of channel hopping.

The quick summary: at least 2 blasts, 18 killed, between 50 to 60 injured, many seriously.

The first blast was at around 6.30 p.m. this evening, in the Sankal Mochan temple. 6 people killed.

The second blast was later, at the Cantonement railway station. At least 12 killed.

There may have been a third blast, also at the station. Some intelligence agencies say this is not true.

Apparently there was a fourth blast at around 8 p.m. o a train 30 km from Varanasi.

In addtion, 2 live bombs were discovered in a restaurant, and 4 more in Dashashwasmedha (sp?) Ghat.

The CM has announced Rs 5 lakh ex-gratia payment to the families of the dead, and Rs 1 lakh to the injured.

The Railway helplines at Varanasi: 91 5242 2505896 and 91 5242 2509805.

The government has put security forces on high alert, particularly in Delhi, Bombay, Ayodhya, Mathura, Allahabad and Puri.

Many oppostion politcians are seizing the opportunity to blame the government. Just saw the BJP chief doing that.
The BSP has called for a state-wide bandh tomorrow
Some politician has offered what I understood to be a billion rupee reward ... not quite sure what it was about. Will see if I get some more info on that.

CNN-IBn is inviting citizen reports via SMS to 2622 (from Indian cellphones) or via email to citizen@ibnlive.com

Shall update this post if anything new comes up.

Technorati:

"eve-teasing"

Our apologies in advance. This is a long, rambly post. Sorry, an even more rambly post than we produce in those rare moments when we stir ourselves to actually write at length. And yes, we'll have to abandon our beloved first person plural for the nonce. We beg your pardon.

When one of the people behind the Blank Noise Project blog-a-thon got in touch a few days ago and invited me to participate, I hesitated. I'll gladly help spread the word, I said, but I don't know if I'll post.

You see, there are parts of this whole thing that leave me uncomfortable.

There's the matter of the road-side romeos, as we like to refer to them. The ones who whistle and sing film songs at girls. Scum, right? Shouldn't be allowed, right?

To answer that, I'll have to digress a bit. I was talking to a friend last night. She mentioned a girl we both know who was being harassed. I sat up. All concern. What happened, I asked. Well, some chap who'd taken a fancy to her had been emailing and SMSing a lot, had asked her out several times, that kinda thing. I snorted. That's not harassment, I said, that's a dumbf*** who doesn't get the message. And then I had this flash: the road-side romeos, they're doing just the same thing; they don't do the flowers and asking-out-to-a-date thing, but it's really only because they haven't been grown up learning that kind of courtship ritual. It's just a different culture thing. Take away the, um, "sophistication" levels, and we're still talking unwanted attention here.

And that's where I'm stuck; I fancy a woman, I ask her out, is that harassment? I think not.

When a guy looking at a woman with admiration — or trying to strike up a conversation, or asking her out — is labelled "harassment," a line is crossed. I'm quite likely to do some of that (well, okay, just the letching part, I lack nerve to do more than that, usually), and I don't see myself as a predator by any stretch of the imagination. And as I long as I have hormones and eyesight — alas, one is aging, so that may not be long — I will continue to say a mental hubba-hubba-va-va-voom whenever I happen to spot a woman who meets my particular standards of attractiveness.

Anyway. Let's leave my dilemmas out of this for the moment. Where was I? Yes.

Over the last few days, reading the posts that have begun coming up , I have been feeling .. shell-shocked. Not at the content — female friends have told me more and worse — but at the sheer numbers. And the pent-up rage that one sees coming to the surface. And I have begun to think that while I still don't agree that ogling is harassment, I can understand why so many women think so.

What, aside from that, pushed me to finally post? Several things.

I think it was reading, somewhere on some news site during my insomniac wanderings, which one I can't remember, that ridiculous euphemism once more: eve teasing. Jeeze. Teasing. Therein lies a problem. The media needs to stop using that antiquated term that makes it sound like a boys-will-be-boys lark and tell it like it is. If some creep paws a woman, say he pawed her, for god's sake.

I think it was several memories coming to the surface.

Like this once, way back when I was fresh-faced youth (yes, there was such a time), I had an elderly perve groping my crotch in a crowded train. Crowded or not, I reached down, got hold of his little finger and bent it backwards. Crowded or not, he managed to wiggle his way quickly to the other side of the train.

That was just once. I cannot begin to imagine what my life would be like if I had to go through this every day.

Like this other time, years later, in a train with a female friend, as we were getting off at a crowded station, she whispered to me, that guy behind me is pinching me. The rush of people getting on and off was a bit of a hindrance, but as we got out, I reached out and caught his neck, and slammed him against a pillar. His friends came to his rescue, trying to pick a fight. Ask this b*********d what he was doing I yelled in my tattered Hindi. A crowd, as crowds do, quickly formed. Beat the m**********d up someone suggested helpfully. The pals quickly changed their tune. Let him go, he's young or something to that effect. I lose my temper rarely, when I do, I see red. My friend pulled me away. Let it go, she said, probably concerned that I would burst a blood vessel. I wish I hadn't. Maybe I scared him enough. Somehow, I think not.

Partly, it was the memory of, over the years, female friends telling me of walking hunched, with a file held across the chest; of carrying knives in their purses; of being felt, groped, touched, pinched every day for years. Some have retaliated, hit out, made a scene. Most haven't. They've been told to let it go, don't make a scene, it happens all over, there's nothing you can do.

I also remembered a prize-winning essay by Meenakshi Shedde (Outlook's rejecting my password, so I can't point you to the link or remember her exact words, but it was either the 2000 or 2001 Outlook Picador contest.) which said something about "boyfriend clothes"; clothes you could only wear when you were with a man.

I also remember an essay by Meenakshi Shedde, one that was short-listed in the Outlook Picador contest in 2001 [Thanks to Dilip, who, incidentally, won second prize that year, I can now quote the relevant passage]:
Besides, my dress sense is relatively conservative, covering most of my body. Minis and plunging necklines are mostly in the realm of what I call `boyfriend clothes' -- clothes best worn with a boyfriend attached: a single woman wearing them draws so much unpleasant attention from the men in the streets, it is simply not worth the bother.
Is there a point to all this? Kind of. Here it is. If a woman is physically assaulted every day to the point where she carries a constant kernel of suspicion and rage around with her; if a woman within reach of a man's hands in situations where he thinks he won't get caught is touched inappropriately more times than not; if a woman can't wear what she wants to when she wants to (and don't give me that lame-arsed twaddle about respecting culture; if paunchy men can wander around in public in striped chuddies, shirtless, scratching their privates, it is hypocritical to want women to cover up), then something's very, very wrong.

So, will this blog-a-thon matter a solitary damn? I'm sceptical. It will, by and large, preach to the converted. Such trolls and plain weirdos as may happen by will not see reason. But, hey who knows. It will bring some attention to the matter. Maybe get some media coverage. At the very least, if some women speak of their rage for the first time, and find some release in it, if some woman can walk proud and erect, if some angry women stops tarring all men with the same brush .. and if even one man looks at this problem differently after this blog-a-thon, perhaps a beginning will have been made.

After I wrote this, and was agonising about whether to post it, I happened to be chatting with a friend. And in my usual decisive way, I dumped this post on her, asked her for an opinion. Post, she said. Yes, it rambles, she said, kindly not going on to say, hey, who expects anything else from you? We discussed a few other blog-a-thon posts we'd both read. And she said something that summed it up for me better than I could have. So, with Megha's permission, here we go:
Who are Roadside Romeos? Are they some separate branch of society different from us? We, blog readers = respectable. They, RRs = scum of the earth? I think that line that some of us have in our mind is what this blog-a-thon somewhat blurs. Perhaps, in reading the testimonies of women everywhere, there may be men who sit up and realise that what they think is harmless is perhaps not so harmless. Perhaps, in reading the testimonies of innocent men who have unfairly been subject to angry glares, there will be women who will sit up and realise that not all men are scum. Perhaps we will come away on the whole realising that things are a lot more nuanced than we see them as.

And another thing too - when a malaise is as commonplace as 'street harassment / eve teasing' is, we become somewhat indifferent to it. A problem that we are at most times, content to ignore, until and unless it directly affects us. Shy away from uncomfortable truths or live in blissful denial of it. But perhaps, on reading the posts written on this topic, some of us will, at least in our heads, stop pretending that the problem is the rest-of-the-world's alone. It is very much ours as well. And isn't that an essential part of solving any problem - to start by acknowledging that it exists?
Technorati:

Sunday, 5 March 2006

Been there



Can't count Haryana, Punjab and MP, which I've only passed through. Sigh. So much left. And there's this to do. Once I get me a passport.

[Via Elephant Droppings. Make your own map here.]

Going to the dogs

So, first a vapid TV host gets grief from one community because of what she calls her dogs.

Then, a journo gets crap from the authorities because of what she reports a film star called her dog.

Now, some other people are making a racket about the mere presence of dogs at Gandhi's memorial.

WTF? How is any of this insulting, except to dogs? So, if tomorrow, I go into a cohabitation arrangement with an animal of the canine persuasion, and I happen to refer to my doggie pal as Anubis, would I then be the target of the wrath of all of Egypt?

Update (5/3/06): See Dilip's take here.

Saturday, 4 March 2006

In Pakistan...

..blogger and blogspot sites have apparently been blocked by some ISPs. Help-Pakistan has launched a protest campaign online.



Personal update: From a pal in Lahore, I hear:
As for the blogspot dilemma, indeed they seem to have been blocked. But i haven't recieved any information that would implicate the government yet. Some people on dial up connections and/or DSl connections haven't had the problem. Its just the cable providers such as world call and satcomm that seem to have blocked blogspot. It is likely that blogspot has officially been banned but a official confirmation of that sepcualtion hasn't been made available yet.

It would indeed be a sad state of affairs if we have been censored like that, but then no atrocity is a surprise these days. I wonder what they'll ban next. Maybe hotmail.

Firefox fans..

..Mozilla annunces the winners of its Extend Firefox Contest.

Grand Prize winners
Best New Extension Overall:Reveal by Michael Wu
Best Upgraded Extension: Web Developer by Chris Pederick
Best Use of New Firefox 1.5 Features: Firefox Showcase by Josep del Rio

Best in Class
Most Innovative
New: Viamatic Foxpose by Vivek Jishtu
Upgraded: Sage by Peter Andrews
Most Useful
New: Separe by Massimo Mangoni
Upgraded: Scrapbook by Taiga Gomibuchi
Best User Experience
New: Reveal by Michael Wu
Upgraded: All-in-One Sidebar by Ingo Wennemaring
Best Integration with a Web Service
New: My Stickies by Jacob Wright
Upgraded: Forecast Fox by Aaron Sarna

(Yeah, you IE types. Get Firefox.)