It’s a book. Not a boy or girl. I am the father of two daughters. Writing and publishing a book was more like becoming a mother. It stayed with or rather within me for nearly a year, when I keyed in the novel, usually after a long day working, earning my livelihood, again mostly on the laptop.
The book incubated longer than I expected. I sat on it for many months as finding a publisher was tough. Reactions were similar though conveyed in different standard polite answers — “It is tremendous, but.’’ “It is lovely, but.’’ It is exhilarating, but.’’
I easily guessed the unsaid bits: “you are no Rowling, Rushdie, Brown, Seth or Bhagat. Not a cricketer, film star, retired army chief or spiritual guru zealously followed on TV channels. Not a banned author. No fatwa against you. No sex scandal. Not a gay. Who will buy your book but your mom and dad? And that’s just one copy between the two. Maybe a cousin or two more may pay for it. Maybe you should Twerk naked. That could work.’’
Then, miraculously it did happen. Someone was willing to take the risk. Matters moved quickly here on. It was surely a proud moment when the baby arrived wrapped in white courier plastic sheets. As all new parents know, there isn’t a moment’s respite after the much celebrated arrival of the infant. The nights and days are a blur of burps, vomits, potty and susu. It is the occasional smile and gurgle that makes it all worthwhile, despite the bleary eyes.
I too had a big task in hand. What does one do with a book that nobody buys or reads? I mean readers sensibly pre-order Rowling, Bhagat, Rushdie, Tripathi or Seth. A wait list for the latest iPhone is very understandable. Advance booking for a Salman Khan movie is permissible.
Then multiple other distractions co-exist to amuse, entertain and provoke the dwindling breed of readers. Youtube spoofs on politicians and Arnab Goswami proliferate. Arvind Kejriwal had a night out outside Parliament about the time my book was born.
Then, Virat Kohli scored another century, increasingly making Sachin Tendulkar’s monumental one day record seem like a mole hill. Along side Virat is also dating Anushka Sharma who got herself a lip job around time that my book was supposed to be picking up sales. Who would be interested, when Anushka’s lips are in focus? Those not into Anushka could be hooked by itsy bitsy Sunny Leone doing her Ragini MMS number.
Wendy Doniger’s book, meanwhile, got banned, catapulting her to top trending status on Facebook, Twitter, alongside usual Kohli, Modi, Bachchan, Gandhi, Leone, Kejriwal, the hot list giants. The world today is divided between those who have downloaded Doniger and those who have not.
Happily, some sensible people have bought my book as well. Who else but my parents, wife’s family, school, college mates, friends and colleagues? I salute them. These are very generous and large-hearted folks. I hope they enjoyed reading the book.
The numbers of course add up to nothing in terms of royalties or below average bestseller figures. But, like all mothers I have full faith in my kid who will one day overtake Rowling, Seth, King and Brown put together. My labor of love will surely be rewarded.
(Buy my book An Offbeat Story (paperback) here, described by a prominent book critic as one of the most humorous and entertaining reality fiction novel by an Indian writer. Ebook). BTW, the book is showing up on some best seller lists and this cannot be just due to friends and relatives, making me a prouder mom.
Indian cricket stars make a lot of money, recently reinforced by the IPL auctions. Yuvraj Singh will be paid Rs 14 crore, Dinesh Karthik will pocket a cool Rs 12.5 crore for a few weeks of effort on the field. The two are not even regulars in the Indian cricket team anymore.
Each minute on the field, runs scored will translate into lakhs of rupees spent by promoters, who obviously hope to make even more profits riding on India’s craze for cricket.
Vijay Mallya, who bought Yuvraj, believes he will be able to fly high again riding on cricket. Priety Zinta believes IPL will provide some succor away from her dwindling Bollywood career. Shilpa Shetty surely sells more of her yoga DVD’s, by being in the cricketing limelight via her IPL team, Rajasthan Royals. Meanwhile, no cricketer with even a remote possibility of being selected for the IPL wants to rest on his laurels or retire in a hurry.
Kevin Pietersen (Rs 9 crore) is laughing all the way to the bank despite being sacked from the England cricket team on grounds not connected to merit. Whoever said intrigue is monopoly of BCCI, otherwise one of the world’s richest sports bodies.
Virendra Sehwag, however, wants to run a school, which is noble. But, then Viru has always been a little different from the rest. Indians interest in cricket cuts across class, caste, age, gender. It’s the kind of following any politician or political party could die for.
Narendra Modi has had to work hard for 10-years in Gujarat. Still, he is unsure about the middle class votes. Rahul Gandhi constantly speaks about the sacrifices of his family for generations. Still, the Congress is staring at defeat in the general elections this summer.
The IPL auctions offer a governance lesson too – just like cricketers it is only open market bidding that can determine the right price for India’s natural resources such as telecom spectrum, land or coal blocks. Not undercover allotments to crony capitalists that Arvind Kejriwal recently spelled out are the real destroyers of India.
The former Delhi chief minister never ceases to surprise. Just as one was beginning to believe he is a maverick who will drive any government to bankruptcy by extending unsustainable freebies in power or water supply, the Aam Aadmi leader recently revealed a new pro-business side.
Kejriwal needs to learn from Sunny Leone and bare all, rather than confusing and frustrating his followers no end. Will the Indian cricket bubble burst? Not in a hurry. As long as the Indian cricket team continues to be a subcontinent bully, the followers will stick.
The tag of minnows abroad will be forgotten after a successful domestic series. No point in blaming “obnoxious’’ MS Dhoni for holding the worst overseas record following recent failures in South Africa and New Zealand on the back of abject surrenders in England and Australia.
Dhoni could be sacrificed and Virat Kohli may be the new leader in the near future. But, any captain will be helpless so long as Indian dust-bowl pitches produce assembly line cricketers such as Suresh Raina, proficient in hitting sixes off balls that only remain below the knee pad.
Such consistent bounce can only breed cricketers woefully inconsistent abroad on bouncy wickets. Plus, conditions of wickets in India are simply not conducive to breeding top class fast bowlers who can make a difference abroad.
Despite the match fixing controversies, present and past, Indian fans believe games are mostly fair and competitive. Indian cricket has been lucky to produce personalities such as Sachin Tedulkar, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Sunil Gavaskar who played the game in the truest spirit. This is unlike the general disillusionment with politics, where the corrupt and criminal often call the shots. Decisions are made for narrow political gains, for example the Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa government recently deciding to release Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins or earlier the Congress at the center hanging Afzal Guru out of turn.
Further, no other team sport in India, that really draws the eyeballs, can challenge the supremacy of cricket in the foreseeable future. Indian hockey standards are poor due to lack of facilities and inept management. The team even failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Any under-19 school or college soccer side from Europe can whip our national team, under any conditions. Flashes of brilliance such as Saina Nehwal can only be minor diversions from the main fix. Like 24-hour news channels, non-stop cricket through the year will remain a fact of life for Indians. Nobody will complain as long as everybody makes more and more money. Cricket, Bollywood, Sunny Leone and Arnab Goswami will continue be India’s main entertainment options for some time to come, for sure.
(Re-posting this piece in the context of the possible release of those convicted of killing Rajiv Gandhi, one of the few Indian politicians I really admired)
There have been extreme reactions to Afzal Guru’s hanging in India. While there is anger and resentment in the Kashmir Valley, many see it as justice finally delivered. Over time Guru has conveyed and symbolized different meanings to different sets of people, despite the judiciary pronouncing him guilty. He is simultaneously seen as a terrorist, innocent, victim of police brutality, instance of gross human rights violation, injustice, pseudo secular politics, a soft Indian state, inept handling of Kashmir and Kashmiris by New Delhi.
Many comments on social networking sites, where one presumes young Indians are most active, derive a pathological Taliban-esque pleasure in the death of Guru. English TV channels, meanwhile, went berserk after the hanging, claiming to speak on behalf of an apparently revenge seeking, blood thirsty Indian people desperately waiting every morning for Guru to die.
The fact remains that Guru knowingly or unknowingly facilitated the 2001 brazen attack on Parliament, which nobody tires of mentioning, is the symbol of Indian Democracy. The big question about Guru’s hanging is the timing?
Why now, when he has been on death row for more than a decade, along with many others, including assassins of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh, the former chief minister of Punjab?
Why is it that the two main political parties, the Congress and BJP, are agreed on Guru’s hanging, when the issue has remained sensitive and divisive for so long? This is when politicians in this country do not even agree that rape is a crime committed by men – that it has nothing to do with vibes, clothes, diet, jeans, short skirts, hour of the day or night, hormones, disco, occasion, location, boyfriend, working or drunk women.
Clearly, there has been sinister intent in the death of Guru, unlike the hanging of Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab due to the clinching evidence caught on CCTV cameras. Guru was no master mind or ideologue like a Hafiz Saeed or Masood Azhar, who roam about in Pakistan like celebrities. He was a pawn, possibly a mercenary caught up and influenced by the wrong people. He tried to lead a normal life, but failed due to the lure of money.
With Indian Muslims gravitating towards supporting regional outfits in electorally crucial states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two national parties Congress and BJP are fighting to win Hindu and middle class votes. The stakes have turned higher and thus politics dirtier with general elections approaching. Simplistically put, the assumption is that Hindu’s do not like pro-minority politics and feel happy when Muslims are put on the back foot.
The merit-driven hard-working, often self-righteous middle class, on the other hand likes to play by the rules, dislikes indecisiveness, procrastination, dirty politics.
A living Guru had been turned by some into another instance of government inaction, an aspect made more glaring due to failure in several other spheres – growth, economic reforms, generating employment, changes in education, checking corruption, Maoist rebellion and importantly talks with Kashmiri separatist groups.
The Congress-led New Delhi government is also alarmed by the emergence of Narendra Modi with his twin agenda of good governance and clinical development that goes down well with the middle classes. Modi does not need to get after the Muslims. The dynamic Modi more than proved his credentials in 2002 by passively overseeing the Gujarat riots.
What better way for the Congress to confuse the electorate by springing Guru into collective consciousness to obliterate a bit of the Modi effect. Too many emotive issues have been played up in the past to influence and polarize voters – the politics of caste, building the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Mandal and reservations, among others.
These are mere cloaks to cover inadequacies of performance, corruption, governance, positive change and affirmative action. Guru might have deserved to die. The timing of his hanging, however, is a charade to cloak bigger failures and pursue selfish political intents.
(Buy my book An Offbeat Story here, described by a prominent book critic as one of the most humorous and entertaining reality fiction novel by an Indian writer)
India is gearing for general elections this summer. Indians usually make their vote count. Political players are on overdrive to influence the electorate. Narendra Modi’s sponsored page ceaselessly appears on the sidebar of my Facebook page, though my attention was recently diverted by everybody’s, including my FB movie.
It does feel great to star in a film even if I viewed it maximum number of times. There is no guarantee, however, that every Modi Like will translate into a click on the EVM (electronic voting machine) button for the BJP. India is too vast and diverse for a sponsored FB page or millions twitter following to determine an election.
Just as millions that Like a Bollywood stars fan page does not ensure a movie hit. Without doubt Modi though considers zealous social media netizens to be a core constituency. Who knows, given nature of India’s first past the post (FPTP) ballot, slightest swing in his favor, translated from the social media, could make difference between victory and defeat, a fact that Modi and his strategists are keenly aware. The Congress party is realizing, even if belatedly, power of Internet. Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde recently remarked he would like to “crush’’ social media. Clearly a case of sour grapes as Congress failed to build online users as a vote base.
Beyond the virtual world, opinion polls favorite Modi has been traversing the country addressing massive rallies, appealing to students, chai wallas, dalits, backward castes, upper castes, north easterners. This proves real pulse of the nation lies in streets, alleys and by-lanes. Not inside TV studios with simultaneously speaking guests, as Arnab Goswami would like us to believe.
After years of aloofness from everybody except a select few insiders, Rahul Gandhi allowed himself to be interviewed on TV for the country to figure out the real him. Maybe he should have chosen to remain an enigma. The interaction with Arnab reaffirmed beliefs the Gandhi scion desperately needs to move out of introspection to performance mode. After all, people voted for the Congress party to change their lives for the better, not for Gandhi to discover truth.
Rahul tried to enlighten us about his profound thoughts – changing the system, empowering women, rooting out corruption. Is this supposed to be complicated or what? Rahul does have some fans though. Recently at a rally in Assam, some older women kissed him at an election rally. They could have been planted by the Congress party. Or maybe they were just feeling sorry as Congress is going to lose very badly, as all opinion polls seem to suggest.
The newspapers are splashed with half page posters of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi (both smiling for a change) claiming successful social welfare schemes, efficacy of which cannot be simply determined. The only certainty is a depleting exchequer.
India’s growth rates, meanwhile, have dipped to levels that can only mean downhill for most and failure of policy. Beyond Congress and BJP, others too fancy their chances to rule the Delhi durbar or at least call the shots like Left parties did between 2004 and 2009.
Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aami Party (AAP’s) is sadly turning out to be the Poonam Pandey of Indian politics, looking to dominate news headlines by hook or crook, allegations, dharnas, bombastic statements. Running a government is not about making headlines. That, even Pandey does on twitter streaming her private pics. In cricket parlance Kejriwal and his core group want to hit a six every ball. Virendra Sehwag tried for a while and has been dropped for good.
To keep up the tempo, minister, Somnath Bharti entered homes of women at night accusing them of being prostitutes. Gauging recent developments, AAP has been looking for excuses to vote itself out of power, and succeeded. Kejriwal has resigned over the Jan Lokpal Bill perhaps fancying his chances as a future PM of India. The people of Delhi have reason to feel betrayed. If the emergence of AAP dented BJP’s performance in the Delhi elections, their desperate shenanigans could benefit Modi in general elections.
Away from the din of national media, the three queen bees of Indian politics, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Jayalalithaa, street smart, power hungry, mean and ruthless, can never be pushovers. As Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh found out, these ladies can make any government go down on its knees to have their way. And given nature of coalition politics, each one also fancies their chance for top job this year, instead of just being power behind the throne. An alternative to the Congress and BJP, a Third Front or Federal Front, cannot be ruled out with the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav even Deve Gowda seeing themselves as PM material.
I do feel sorry for Nitish Kumar though. He is a good man who seems to have played his cards wrong. Nitish has unfortunately sidelined himself while his intention was to trip Modi. Thankfully, DMK, political party cum corrupt business enterprise, looks to be staring at defeat.
(Buy my book An Offbeat Story here, described by a prominent book critic as one of the most humorous and entertaining reality fiction novel by an Indian writer)
(Maruti Suzuki has stopped production of the iconic Maruti 800. A piece I wrote in 2009, when Maruti first announced that it has begun the process of withdrawing India’s first hatchback)
In an indication of a changing India, two lifestyle products that defined Indian middle class existence and aspiration in the 1970s and 1980s will soon cease production. The decision by respective firms to phase out Bajaj Scooters entirely from March next year and entry-level Maruti 800 cars from metropolitan areas to begin with, is purely business related — sales have sagged.
But it also reflects a different mindset, another India and a new era that fancies faster motorcycles and bigger and better cars. In the 1970s Bajaj scooters symbolized middle-class stability, although the engine, placed on one side, made the machine unstable. By 1995, Bajaj had sold 10 million of the vehicles, sometimes hitting a million sales a year.
But in the current situation of rashly driven powerful vehicles and 24-hour call center cabs, two-wheelers are very unsafe. Also Bajaj was unable or unwilling to adapt its scooters to the onslaught of sleek, fast and fashionable motorbikes imported from Japan. By 2005, the company announced it was discontinuing its biggest seller of all time, the Chetak. Now the Kristal, its last model, will soon go.
Back then, father on wheel, mother pillion, younger child standing in front with head bobbing out, older sibling squeezed between mother, father, everybody with arms around each other for balance and protection, epitomized complete Indian family. “Hum do hamare do.’’ It was idyllic.
Needless to say, the famous ad tag line “Hamara Bajaj” (Our Bajaj) translated into brisk sales. The strict father, seeped in the idealistic hangover of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, could have typically worked in a government department, university professor or trader; the mother, a housewife, dedicated to the family, spent hours in kitchen, cleaning house and praying for their welfare.
The unified aim of the husband-wife duo was to ensure their children a good education to turn them into engineers (via cracking the coveted IIT exam) or doctors (via the equally difficult MBBS entrance exam) or make it to the IAS, the top government job (via the even more difficult UPSC exam). With such a focus on study, a big sprinkling of the Bajaj kids did make it and many of them went to America, the land of opportunity, to become software czars and cardiologists, reproducing kids in turn who today call the shots in political stakes as campaign managers and fundraisers driving BMWs or Mercedes- Benzes and collecting bikes that probably cost more than their father’s whole life income, many times over.
Some of the Indian kids who lived the American dream called their parents over from India, who left, some selling off the Bajaj scooters as junk. Other children, absorbed in their success and new money, forgot about their native families back home, offering endless themes for sob stories of abandoned parents for Hindi movies that sometimes passed off as meaningful art cinema.
Meanwhile, the Maruti 800 was launched in pre-liberalized India in the 1980s when the License Raj prevailed to shackle any enterprise, when access to state authority or grease money counted for everything — owning a telephone, a passport, a driver’s license or a gas connection and a house.
In keeping with authoritative behavior, most marriages were arranged. Gandhi and Nehru were forgotten entities although their pictures remained framed in every government office, ideals obliterated. The Babu (read lower government official) was king. Cordless phones were a luxury item, compared to over 500 million cell phone users in the country today.
The bulk of youth (everybody could not make it to IIT or IAS or MBBS) aspired to be part of this kingdom and wield the power to dole out telephone connections or hand out nationalized bank loans and progress in life — from Bajaj Scooters to Maruti 800s.
In a way the spiffy, quick pickup, inexpensive Maruti 800s that took on the ambling Ambassadors and Fiats that dominated Indian roads was the first challenge to the Raj, though there were car quotas still and one needed to bribe a Babu, maybe by offering foreign-made bottles of liquor.
The Maruti 800, fast, flexible and individualistic, a tin pot compared to cars of today indicated the 1990s and new a millennium. Today a typical middle class Indian family travels in a snazzier Maruti Swift or a Hyundai I-20, financed out of quick processing by private banks, visits chock-a-block malls during the weekend, watches high-priced multiplex movies, while the kids feed on pizza and burgers, probably from MacDonald’s, home delivery or take away, resulting in new age problems such as obesity.
The parents lead jet setting corporate lives, grapple with deadlines, keep global times; some fight lifestyle-related heart problems and hypertension, while others spend time at the gym or spa to de-stress and detoxify. Telephone connections are not a problem, bank loans are available online, cars can be brought off the shelf like a pair of jeans. There is freedom to choose.
Love marriages are on the rise, so are gays and divorce rates. Discussions center on Nehru’s affairs with foreign women rather than his beliefs and vision. Gandhi is remembered in the context of Bollywood masala flicks such as Munnabhai MBBS. The ones who have made it via the stock market or real estate windfalls commute in bigger Honda cars or even a BMW and travel abroad for holidays and spend evenings at expensive clubs, discussing art investments. Mobile phone-toting maids connected to roaming parents look after kids who spend time on computer games and TV. The children imbibe good social skills in private schools followed by an expensive MBA (in India or abroad).
There are plenty of domestic service sector jobs that need more smooth talking and less thinking — hospitality, banking, insurance, tourism, outsourcing or at MNCs such as Coca Cola, Pepsi or Nestle, offering perks and foreign postings.
A lot needs to be improved, such as regular electricity supply and roads without potholes. A well-behaved Babu is still a rarity. Though there are masses poor in India still, there are masses of the upwardly mobile too, who like leisure and to dictate the market.
India has changed — for better and worse. The era of Bajaj Scooters and Maruti 800s is history.
(Buy my novel An Offbeat Story here)
(Arvind Kejriwal has threatened to resign. Re-posting this piece I wrote last month)
Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is focused on setting right government functioning that I believe will go much beyond shunning red beacon lights on official cars and bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi. If they are able to fix just this and nothing more, it would be a massive achievement. I have selfish (survival maybe a more apt word) interests that I want addressed ASAP.
The failure of government closely impacts my existence and anybody else connected to this country, I am sure. There are, for instance, unnecessary and heavy expenditures I am forced to incur due to dysfunctional delivery or non-existent public services. I have invested in expensive inverters and a diesel guzzling and polluting generator due to unreliable power.
If I did not I would probably be keying in this piece using a type writer in candle light. I have installed a water cleanser system, again very costly, due to the abysmal quality of the intermittent water supply. Sometimes the germs are so big they are visible to the naked eye. The filter needs to be changed almost every month due to the muck that flows in the water.
The generator that costs a bomb
I have to maintain cars for each member of the family due to absence of safe, reliable, comfortable public transport even as I regularly witness our VIP’s traverse about in big Lal Batti vehicles bought and maintained by tax payers’ money. I do use an auto rickshaw sometimes at considerable risk to my life and limb.
Unchecked and reckless auto drivers are real life Subway Surfers freaks. They offer their customers two choices – either reach the destination or die. I mean, this is not some Star Trek mission, just a short distance drive on earth.
Of course, I need to mention the quality of roads, again maintained by the government, that make the auto journey even more unpalatable. The auto drivers predictably believe that whizzing dangerously over potholes is part of the inbuilt gaming experience.
I am happy about India’s proposed missions to the moon or Mars. I am very unhappy about the permanent craters that exist on our roads. I, along with my neighbors also have to pay for a pool of private guards to prevent our homes getting burgled or cars stolen. I believe this is the job of the cops who are instead deployed to protect some nondescript VIP whose life is supposed to be more precious than all of humanity put together.
The essential cars
Then, I need to send my kids to an expensive private school as government schools are a joke in terms of quality of education and infrastructure, including mid-day meals offered. There is a shortage of teachers, those appointed are absent or on strike and those that teach desperately need to be taught. Each time I or a family member needs to visit a private hospital I pay astronomical consultancy and diagnostic fees.
I should not need to but do not have a choice. I visited a dirty dingy overcrowded government hospital once after I twisted my leg. The queue was so long, the process to finally see a doctor so complicated my ankle would have healed or remained permanently crooked by the time I actually received any treatment. I limped to a private clinic nearby.
There are too many people in our country, including road accident victims, who die due to failure of our medical system to intervene on time. Then, there is the question of efficiently managing our natural resources to produce enough fuel such as coal, gas or oil.
The growing dependence on imports has resulted in our rupee devalued to levels that make a takeaway coffee in London a fine dining experience that needs to be sipped and savored like expensive wine. If the Aam Aadmi Party resolves to take on the above mentioned issues in Delhi and hopefully rest of India, my vote is forever with Mr Kejriwal.