Friday, May 31, 2013

We won!

We won, guys. I wrote 110 words, you voted for me, and we won. I really don't know Latin, otherwise I may have said something that would have said something on the lines of veni, vidi, vici. Thank you, everyone, who have contributed to this.

Hope this is not the last time for us. Thank you, once again. You're one of the three reasons that keep me going - other than my passion for writing and, of course, Fardeen Khan.

Attached is a screenshot you may like. The trophy is on the cabinet - at the frame on the right.


PS: Parama, the new kid on the block, came second in the contest. You may want to read her entry as well.

A naval tale

Finally I've started living up to my competitive and combative nature. Here is another entry to a contest where I need to conjure up something on the following topic:

After World War III, the female survivors decide that, as men caused the war and did most of the fighting, it is simply too dangerous to allow them to be in control of the governments any longer. Men are banned from government and military service and, after a few years, banned from voting, having an education or having a job outside the home. A young boy, depressed by his limited prospects at home, decides to pose as a girl so he can join the navy.

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Disclaimer: This story may end up hurting sentiments of sexists. However, I would please, please request you to note the fact that the topic is sexist in itself, and hence writing a a non-sexist story on a sexist topic is, well, beyond my scope. If you are a sexist and do not like sexist stories based on sexist plots, you should skip reading the rest of the post.

I was a bit circumspect, given that I have to write a story involving women, navy, wars, and future - four topics that I am blissfully unaware of.

Now that I have mentioned 'sex' seven times in the paragraph above, my tension has eased off a bit. Sex eases stress, I've been told. Let me set the ball rolling now.

***

Srinivasan was a fraud.

When you come across the word 'fraud', you probably get an image of someone who looks like an insurance agent, carries a battered leather folio, wears buttoned-up full-sleeved cheap shirts that are not tucked inside the ancient grayish trousers, and adorns a permanent four-day salt-and-pepper stubble.

No, Srinivasan was not a fraud in that mould. He was a fraud with class. He looked suave, snazzy, sexy, stylish, smooth, sleek, sensuous, and several other similar adjectives that begin with an S. These, however, weren't qualities that Srinivasan was proud of. He knew that the S's were unnecessary attributes, and though they brought him women on a frequent basis, he knew they were useless qualities unless he stuck to the real s-adjective.

Smart.

Smartness was Srinivasan's forte. He could outsmart any person he knew, and we are not talking rocket science or advanced topology here. He also specialised in impersonating people, which, when combined with smartness, became a tool potent enough to hoodwink any person.

Only that it was different this time. Very different.

He had got the better of a cohort of people. Women, actually.

***

It was, well, a long tale. To cut things short, after the two-year long World War III had ended, the women took their time off from pedicures and eyebrow-plucking, and took to mundane events - including administration. They took a decision - despite vehement protests from men - to strip men of all their rights.

It did not help that the male population had gone down drastically after the war, thereby resulting in a protest that turned out to be as feeble as a muted limbless chihuahua on sedatives. They were captured and shown their place.

They had to be confined to home and household duties; they were deprived of education of all sorts; they were banned from entering Government and military services; and they could be used by the fairer sex in the most unfair of fashions - which was when the heterosexual women contemplated reproduction or watched pre-World War porn.

Things became the toughest for those who were used to the pre-World War comforts, or at least the equality. Srinivasan was one of them. He simply knew he had to find a way around this. He thought hard, rehearsed with a passion, and eventually found a perfect solution.

He was so excited that he had almost shouted out 'Eureka!', but abstained when he was reminded of the horrible music that accompanies the filling of a bottle from an Aquaguard machine.

***

He had taken out time to buy some apparel to turn up for the interview. Now, given the fact that he could not leave the house being dressed as a man (online shopping was, of course, banned for men), there was only one option left.

He had to leave the house as a woman to shop for a woman.

Economists and others have classified concepts like these as vicious circles. Vicious circles weren't good enough to hold back Srinivasan, though: not only circles, he was good at going around vicious squares, triangles, rectangles, in fact, vicious geometry boxes. He could have picked the pocket of a vicious Euclid and a vicious Pythagoras and would have made them blame each other. He was that kind of a person.

Anyway, he had stolen his mistress' lipstick and a few strange-looking tubes that rested innocently next to her bathroom mirror. He had read the instructions carefully, applied each and every one, and had put them back.

The woman at the supermarket had not suspected him. He bought clothes, undergarments, and a basic collection of cosmetics. He had a checklist with him, and had ticked the items one by one until he was satisfied. He loved checklists. Had this been an earlier era, he might have worked as an HR and used phrases like 'paradigm shift'.

Sigh.

He still required a false identity, though. That was easily obtained. He had felt a sudden warm gushing of blood down his veins as he slit that 21-year's throat down the dark alleyway down to the barn. He had murdered before, but this had been different. This had been revenge against injustice. He had found perverse pleasure as he had watched the girl's voiceless body go down in silent spasms, only to be still afterwards.

Stripping the girl, slicing her into bits, and throwing them to the pigs' pen had been rather easy afterwards. The good things about pigs is the fact that they eat anything and are perpetually hungry, somewhat like politicians.

He had obtained her AADHAAR card, and putting all his experiences of his days of faking passports into use, he had managed to replace her name with his. It had been a cakewalk after that.

***

Getting through had been easy. Sharing room with ladies, showering with them, watching them in their thongs, and getting them to brush their flesh against his during one of those booze-parties had been worth the experience. Controlling his lust had not been, though.

He had to remind himself on a consistent basis that he had been at the navy with a mission. It had been about getting back at them. It had been about getting out of that hellhole. It had been having a life, for a change.

No, he had to get over his lust.

The women, on the other hand, had been quite adventurous at the islands. They had come back tipsy, smelling of stale tobacco, cheap alcohol, and stories of male escorts who they had paid to fulfill various fantasies. "A sailor has a husband in every port", they joked.

Other than the lust bit, though, everything had been manageable. He had waited anxiously for the war to happen - but the world had seemed to be at peace, making the entire concept of armies and navies redundant. Bored, he had often spent his evening on the deck - sparkling like mirrors since the women had taken over - and staring at the sky wondering why people at the navy did not wear navy-blue uniforms and other similar important philosophical aspects of life.

Life wasn't bad for a sailor, after all.

***

Then after what it seemed like ages, it happened.

The sirens blared at dawn, waking everyone up at the first sight of daylight. Women with their brassieres peeking from the loosely tied dressing-gowns ran barefoot up to the deck. The woman on patrol had spotted something.

It was another ship. The gunshots in the distance filled the sky, now turning into a peaceful light blue from the dazzling red of the daybreak. The Sun was momentarily eclipsed by the incessant smoke of the ammunition, and when it all cleared up, they could see the flag at a distance.

It was the Jolly Roger. Only in pink. The ship was full of mean-looking girls who had made a sincere effort to dress up like meanies, but had ended up resembling cute pop singers instead. The white-and-pink designer tops and carefully ripped jeans did not work, despite the immaculate bandanas.

They just did not look like pirates. They simply did not.

They roared in unison, though - with guns in hand. It was evident that the roar was a well-rehearsed one. They roared again, and the pirate ship raced towards their naval counterpart in a straight, somewhat cautious motion.

The women (and the man we all know by now) had got dressed by now. The guns were out. They licked their lips in anticipation. What chance did the pirates have against a fully stacked naval vessel?

They leaned on the deck, and shot approximately when the pirate ship got close enough for the strong wind to carry a mild whiff of pirate perfume.

The pirate girls shot back, but it was an uneven battle. The navy had the strongest of weapons and months of training behind them, and simply blew the pirates away. Not a single girl survived on the other ship. The naval ship got closer, and the girls in uniform made their way to the other ship walking on the plank that the navy people typically use.

The ammunition was seized, and so were the documents of the ship, along with a few pink diaries. The pirates had apparently been brought up with the idea that pirates always wrote diaries, and had gone for a bulk discount offer, but didn't really get past the "Dear Diary, Now that I'm a pirate, I don't think he loves me anymore" bit.

The navy, obviously, consisted of serious women who meant business. They ransacked the little pirate ship, confiscated all they could, and stole perfumes and lingerie with the gruff seriousness of walruses on diets. Then they walked along the plank back to their ship.

Srinivasan was happy. He had just fought his first war, had crushed the opponents, had managed to acquire a shampoo and a conditioner, along with a diary with little red hearts and the name Ravi written on almost all the pages. Some of the hearts also had rather menacing red arrows piercing through them.

He looked down at his loot fascinatingly. Then he felt something hard poking at his neck. Before he could react his hands were tied behind his back and were cuffed. Unseen hands used something to cover his face, and held tightly, gagging him, choking him...

And then he remembered no more.

***

He woke up on the deck. He insides churned with hunger. His shirt was ripped from his body, and so were his trousers. He was tied to a pole with his hands behind his back, and strong ropes virtually made him immobile. He looked ridiculous in his female underwear.

The Captain walked up to him and slapped him across his face.

"I know why you did this. You also knew what was at stake, didn't you?"

Srinivasan nodded.

Think, he told himself. His hands were tied, and he could not move. Could he talk himself out of this? Smooth talk, after all, had worked for him in the past.

"Look, I really admire the power of the Female. I just wanted to..."

The captain smirked. The crew roared in unison in an infectious laughter.

It's not working. It won't work. They're not the gullible ones he had picked up by the dozens in his heydays. They have been trained.

The Captain held a pistol at his temple. He shivered as the cold metal pressed against his bare skin.

So this was it.

"Anything you want to know before I'm over with this?"

Srinivasan gulped. He did. He did want to know what had given it away.

"How did you figure out?"

A broad grin spread across The Captain's face.

"Oh, that. It was simple. When those sluts attacked today morning, all of us went up to the deck to find out what was going on. Then we got ready and returned with our guns, remember?"

Srinivasan stared at her quizzically.

"All of us - yes, myself included - had glanced at the shiny surface of the deck to see whether we looked all right in our nightgowns, or whether our hairdo was fine when we had dressed up hurriedly. You were the only one who didn't. That, well, was simply not being female."

Those were the last words Srinivasan heard.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ফোর্কলোর

অনির্বাণ আমার বন্ধু। অনির্বাণের সঙ্গে যখন আমার দ্বিতীয়বার দেখা হয় তখন সময়টা ছিল বড় অদ্ভুত। গুরুগ্রামের সেক্টর ওয়ানের সামনে গাড়িসমেত দাঁড়িয়ে ছিল অনির্বাণ, আমার অপেক্ষায়। হরিয়ানার রৌদ্রদগ্ধ দুপুর, সুনীল আকাশ লেলিহান ধূসর ধোঁয়ায় ঢেকে দেওয়া দুর্নিবার সবুজ অটোর পাল, পিচঢালা রাস্তায় নাগরিক সভ্যতাকে বুড়ো আঙুল দেখিয়ে গর্বিত ষাঁড়ের স্পর্ধিত পাদচারণা।

পেটপুরে খাওয়ার পর অনির্বাণ আমাকে জিজ্ঞেস করল, "তুমি বাঙালি খাবার খেতে চাও?" অনির্বাণ দেখতে নিরীহ হলে কি হবে, গুরুগ্রামের তামাম হাল-হকীকত ওর নখদর্পণে।

কাঁহাতক আর প্নির (পনির নয়) আর রাজমা খেয়ে বাঁচা যায়? তার ওপর সেদিনই ট্রাইগ্লিসারাইডের মুখে ঝামা ঘষে দিয়ে অনির্বাণের সঙ্গে গিয়ে একদম খাস লখনৌজাত বাবুর্চির তুন্ডে (অথবা টুন্ডে) কাবাব খেয়ে এসেছি সদ্য। বেশ একটা ফুরফুরে মেজাজ, তার ওপর জীবনদর্শন নিয়ে রীতিমত গুরগম্ভীর আলোচনা হয়েছে।

লাফিয়ে উঠলাম। "আলবাৎ চাই!" অনির্বাণ বেশ কয়েকটা নম্বর পাঠাল, তার একটার নাম ছিল ফোর্কলোর। নামটা পছন্দ হল, তাই চোখ-কান বুজে ডায়াল করলাম।

"হ্যালো?" নিখুঁত পালিশ-করা উচ্চারণ। আমার স্থানীয় হোম-ডেলিভারিতে ফোন করে রুক্ষ ক্ষত্রিয়সুলভ 'হ্যালো' শোনার অভ্যেস, কাজেই গলা আর অ্যাক্সেন্ট শুনে আত্মবিশ্বাস রীতিমত ধাক্কা খেল।

খানিকক্ষণ ইংরিজিতে টানলাম, তারপর জিজ্ঞেস করলাম, "হোয়ট ফিশ?"

"রুই, পাবদা..."

আর যায় কোথায়! এ বাঙালি না হয়ে যায় না! অবাঙালি হলে 'পাবদা' বলত? কিছু জিজ্ঞেস না করে রুইমাছের গাবদা টুকরো পাঠিয়ে দিত।

ব্যাস্‌, বাকি কথোপকথন একদম পাতি বাংলায়।

"ভাত, ডাল, ভাজা, লাউয়ের তরকারি, পাবদা মাছ - চলবে আপনার?"

না, আমি নির্ঘাত স্বপ্ন দেখছি। চিত্তরঞ্জন পার্কে পাওয়া যায় শুনেছি - কিন্তু গুরুগ্রামে?

"ডাল মুসুর না মুগ?"

"ইয়ে, মুসুর..."

"আলুভাজা না বেগুনভাজা?"

বলে কী!

"লাউয়ের তরকারিতে চিংড়ি দেব, না দেব না?"

আমার অজ্ঞান হওয়ার জোগাড়। কোনোমতে "দেবেন" বলে ঝপ্‌ করে রেখে দিলাম - যদি বলে বসে যে রসিকতা করছিলাম?

তো সত্যিই এল। শুধু যে এল তাইই না, ভদ্রমহিলার বেশ বাস্তববুদ্ধি আছে, সঙ্গে থার্মোকলের থালাবাটি পাঠিয়ে দিয়েছেন।

স্বাদ? সে নাহয় আর নাই বা বললাম। শুধু এটুকু বলাই যথেষ্ট যে পাবদাদুটো (হ্যাঁ, দুটো) অবিশ্বাস্য টাটকা, আর গড়িয়াহাট বাজারে বা লেকমার্কেটে ঐ মাপের পাবদা পেতে গেলে বেশ কাঠখড় পোড়াতে হয়।

***

মনে মনে ঠিক করেছিলাম, আবার ফোর্কলোর থেকে বলব। যা হয়, তালেগোলে ভুলে গেছিলাম, আর আবার রাজমা-প্নিরের চক্রান্তে পড়ে গেছিলাম।

একদিন সেলফোন পিঁক করে উঠল। টেক্সট মেসেজ। উইকেন্ড স্পেশল ফ্রম ফোর্কলোর - আলুপোস্ত, মুড়িঘণ্ট...

ইয়াহূ মেসেঞ্জরে একটা স্মাইলি ছিল, :O; ওটা বেশ মজার ছিল, কারণ স্মাইলিটা শুধু রোবটের মত মুখ হাঁ করত না, বেশ ঘাবড়ে গিয়ে মাথা ঝাঁকিয়ে দিত - মানে সত্যিই সত্যিই চমকে যেত। অনেকদিন পর সেটার কথা মনে পড়ল।

তড়িঘড়ি ফোন করলাম। হ্যাঁ, সত্যিই ওরা মেসেজ পাঠিয়েছে, আর সত্যিই আলুপোস্ত আর মুড়িঘণ্ট দুটোই পাওয়া যাবে। অর্ডার করলাম, পরের দিন দুপুরের জন্য।

(বলা হয়নি, ফোর্কলোরে খাবার অর্ডার করতে হয় একটু আগে; ডিনার হলে বিকেল সাড়ে পাঁচটার মধ্যে, আর লাঞ্চ হলে আগের দিন।)

তারপর খেয়াল হল - ওদের তো অপশন বলতে মুসুর আর মুগ - কিন্তু আমার তো চাই কড়াইয়ের (বিউলির) ডাল। আলুপোস্ত যে! তাহলে?

আবার ফোন।

আবার হ্যালো।

আবার "আমি অভিষেক বলছি"।

আবার "হ্যাঁ, বলুন"।

ইতস্ততঃ করে বললাম "কড়াইয়ের ডাল হবে?"

ভদ্রমহিলা চিন্তায় পড়লেন। "কড়াইয়ের ডাল...", তারপর সম্ভবতঃ ওঁরও মাথায় ব্যাপারটা খেলে গেল। "আপনার আলুপোস্তর সঙ্গে কড়াইয়ের ডাল চাই, তাই না? আমি আপনার সেন্টিমেন্টটা বুঝছি, আমি অবশ্যই চেষ্টা করব।"

ধন্যবাদ দিয়ে ফোন রাখলাম।

সেন্টিমেন্ট!

আলবাৎ সেন্টিমেন্ট!!

সেন্টিমেন্ট নয় তো কী?

কড়াইয়ের ডাল আর আলুপোস্তর থেকে বড় সেন্টিমেন্ট কিছু হয় নাকি আবার?

ফোর্কলোর আমাকে সেই মুহূর্তে প্রায় কিনে নিল।

***

কিন্তু বিস্ময়ের তখনও বাকি ছিল।

সকালবেলা ভদ্রমহিলার ফোন - "একটা কথা ছিল, আপনি আলুপোস্ত এদেশিদের স্টাইলে চান, না ওদেশিদের মত?"

আমি হতবাক্‌। সত্যিই এটা হরিয়ানা?

আমতা-আমতা করে বললাম - "ইয়ে, এদেশিদের মত..."

"যাক্‌, ঠিক আছে। একটার সময় পাঠাচ্ছি তাহলে।"

আসছে। তারা আসছে। শুধু আলুপোস্ত নয় - সৎকুলোদ্ভব আলুপোস্ত। সঙ্গে মুড়িঘণ্ট।

বারোটা বাজল। খিদে পাচ্ছিল ঠিকই, কিন্তু সব ছাপিয়ে তৃতীয় রিপু সরব হয়ে উঠল। আর তার একটু পরেই - সাড়ে বারোটা নাগাদ - আবার ফোন।

"দেখুন, আমি অনেক কষ্ট করে বিউলির ডাল পেয়েছি, তবে যেতে মিনিট পনেরো দেরি হবে। আপনার প্রব্লেম নেই তো?"

প্রব্লেম? মুখোশ থাকলে নির্ঘাত চোখ-কান বুজে ফাঁকা ঘরে ছৌ নাচতে শুরু করে দিতাম।

সোয়া একটা নাগাদ দরজায় ধাক্কা পড়ল, আর দেবদূতের মত ব্রাউনপেপারের প্যাকেটের আবির্ভাব ঘটল।

তারপর?

তারপরেও গল্পের আর কিছু বাকি থাকে?

***

থাকে বৈকি। ভাত-ডাল-আলুপোস্ত-মুড়িঘণ্ট দেওয়ার কথা ছিল, কিন্তু ভদ্রমহিলা সম্ভবতঃ "আহা, বাঙালি ছেলেটা হরিয়ানায় বসে হয়ত খেতে পাচ্ছে না" গোছের কিছু ভেবে আমক্ষীর পাঠিয়ে দিয়েছিলেন সঙ্গে।

***

আপনারা কী করছেন বসে? ওয়েবসাইটের লিঙ্ক দিলাম তো ওপরে, ওতেই ফোর্কলোরের নম্বর আছে। একবার করে দেখুন, একফোঁটাও বাড়িয়ে বলছি কিনা।

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Vote for me!

Okay, this is my effort at a shameless, blatant promotion. You all remember this post, right?

The catch is, the winner of the contest will be decided by, er, votes. Votes. Votes. I repeat - votes.

You, a part of the group forming most beautiful, glamorous, attractive, wise, intelligent, successful, talented intellectuals in history, clad in perfectly ironed and starched clothes ever, please go here and vote for, well, me.

(I guess I should blush here and turn the colour of a cherry tomato, but I'm not really good at things like these. Mean, rugged alpha males aren't really cut out for blushing.)

Here are the rules. Mind you, you need to vote for three people, so this is how you should proceed:
1. Read the instructions in the image below very carefully. I could have typed it out, but I guess the choice of fonts (especially the font colours) adds to the grandeur of the thing. Remember, under any circumstances, reading instructions is cool.
2. Be dishonest and vote for me.  Honesty pays rarely, but dishonesty is always loyal.
3. Choose the other two randomly, so that the results will get distributed evenly if there is a large number of voters, leaving me a clear winner.
4. Distribute this among others as well. Remember, for every vote you cast for me, there may be 42 others voting for one of the other participants.

DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT CLICK ON THE ASTERISKS NEXT TO MY NAME. YOU 'RE OBVIOUSLY WELCOME TO DO THAT IF YOU FEEL LIKE, BUT IT IS THE COMMENTS THAT ARE IMPORTANT.

PS: I'm disabling comments for this post. If you have queries, email me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The license



The brothers could not believe their ears. Yudhishthir had agreed to play Shakuni again. This time the stake was different: whoever lost had to spend thirteen years in exile.

The two men sat facing each other, their eyes transfixed on the cross-shaped playing board. Each man cast his own dice. The audience waited with bated breath.

The unthinkable had happened! Yudhishtir had won!

The crowd was so taken aback that they even forgot to react.

Shakuni looked furious. He swore, and shouted at no one in particular: "But I cheated! I was supposed to win!"

Vyasa entered with a smile: "I’m the author, you know. I get to decide here."

***

Competition rules here.
Vote for me here or here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Towel Day and Cricket

Cross-posted on CricketCountry (with edits).
A part of the Towel Day Blogfest.

***

Douglas Adams was seriously tall. I mean, he wasn’t really as tall as Mohammad Irfan, hence his height remains his second-most talked about feature. However, it should not be forgotten that he was 6’ tall at the age of twelve, and the astonishing vertical growth stopped only after he reached 6’5”. He was so tall that his form-master apparently asked everyone to ‘meet under Adams’ instead of the mundane ‘meet under the War Memorial’ or ‘meet under the Clock Tower’.

He also loved the rhinoceros to the extent that he had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhinoceros suit. He also loved gorillas, but the idea of mountaineering in a gorilla suit perhaps did not appeal to him as much. This was probably due to the fact that gorillas are remotely connected to our ancestors, and as we all know, humans are not proud of their ancestors, and rarely invite them round to dinner.

Meiosis and birth; or rather, the other way round

Adams was born on March 11, 1952 in Cambridge. As if to celebrate his birth, Fred Trueman and mates toyed with the Indian batting line-up in the same way that ostriches don’t; Vinoo Mankad was pulled out of Haslingden to play at Lord’s – the Mecca of cricket – which would go on to feature in Adams’ work. This paragraph is not about that, though.

This paragraph isn’t about it, either. It’s too short a paragraph to contain something so important.

When Douglas Noel Adams turned one, and was probably trying to take a cat apart to see how it works (the obvious first outcome of which is a non-working cat), James Dewey Watson and Francis Harry Compton Crick discovered the double helix structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid at Cambridge University. The acid went by the rather cool acronym of DNA, leading our hero to emphasise that he was ‘the DNA in Cambridge months earlier’.

1974: The summer that changed everything

We all remember 1974, don’t we? I know it was seriously long back. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. In addition to that, people possibly still thought that digital watches were neat.

Something of serious importance happened in 1974 as well. India were bowled out for 42 at Lord’s (see the way cricket, India, and Lord’s keep coming back?). He never forgot the incident. Lord’s, along with 42, probably continued to haunt him – and he was smart enough to realise that he could not get rid of the impact just with potatoes.

So, in 1979 (which was when India toured England next, and Dilip Vengsarkar scored his first Lord’s hundred), five years after ‘The Summer of 42’, 42 happened. Mankind got to know The Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything – a fact that even Google acknowledges till today. When questioned on the choice of the number, Adams politely responded that it was “a completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also six and seven. In fact it's the sort of number that you could, without any fear, introduce to your parents.”

Krikkit

Life, The Universe, and Everything came out in 1982 (are you surprised that it had to coincide with India’s next England trip, and Vengsarkar’s second century at – well – Lord’s?). This is the paragraph which will act as the prelude to the one where Lord’s is about to come into play.

It features the Krikkit Wars, and how “the night sky over the planet Krikkit is the least interesting sight in the entire Universe.” And then, there were the dazzling spectacle: “The three pillars stood out clearly now, three pillars topped with two cross-pieces in a way which looked stupefyingly familiar to Arthur [Dent]'s addled brain.”

The Steel Pillar (which the left one, which was ‘clearly made of steel or something very like it’), obviously, represented the Strength and Power. The Perspex Pillar (‘the right-hand, transparent pillar creating dazzling patterns within it and a sudden inexplicable craving for ice-cream in the stomach of Arthur Dent’) represented the forces of Science and Reason. The Wooden Pillar (the one at the centre) stood for Nature and Spirituality. Between them, of course, lay the Golden Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace. Together, rather predictably, they formed the Symbol of the Wikkit Gate.

Of course, there is the small bit that Arthur Dent, the protagonist, and his mate Ford Prefect, landed in the middle of the pitch at Lord’s Cricket Ground riding a Chesterfield sofa amidst great cheer during an Ashes Test, with England needing 28 runs to win. As you may have guessed it, this is the long-awaited paragraph.

And then, at the end of the book Dent does what every sensible man is supposed to do when he finds a ball in his bag, and realises that he is on the turf of Lord’s. The book also features the Ashes – one of the only two components of the Wikkit Gate not destroyed by the robots.

There’s more, but this is not the place for that.

Possibly the most topsy-turvy ride in a book involving cricket. Or Krikkit. Ever.

Legacy

Douglas Adams passed away at an age of 49. Or rather, blackness swam toward him like a school of eels who have just seen something that eels like a lot. Or maybe death just received him in a loose and distant kind of way, like an aunt who disapproves of the last fifteen years of your life and will therefore furnish you with a basic sherry, but refuses to catch your eye. Or maybe he heard the announcement “This is flight 121 to Los Angeles. If your travel plans today do not include Los Angeles, now would be a perfect time to disembark,” and disembarked from life. Or maybe he died, just like that.

His memorial service (where they possibly thanked him for all the fish), held on September 17, 2001, was the first church service broadcast live on the web by BBC. Of course, just like all of us, Adams felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it. And now that the world was Adams-free, Ajit Agarkar scored a hundred the very next year at Lord’s.

He would not have thought very highly of IPL, I guess. He would probably have considered it as something similar to “introducing Al Capone, Genghis Khan and Rupert Murdoch into the Isle of Wight – the locals wouldn't stand a chance”, or in other words, a force created to destroy the happy residents of the sport. Neither did he like the fact that we make our own lives miserable for “small green bits of paper that aren’t really unhappy themselves”.

Even then, amidst all the match-fixing and other horrors that try to overcome the spirit of cricket (or even Krikkit), we still know that the sport is, well, mostly harmless. The road ahead can be hazardous, but I guess it will always allow us enough time and opportunity to remember to bring a towel with us. Any towel.

Happy Towel Day, everyone. Do remember the golden words: Don't Panic.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Coffee: TTTT

These stories are a part of a contest held by Terribly Tiny Tales. The rules said:
  1. The stories have to contain the word coffee.
  2. The stories cannot exceed 140 characters each.
  3. There can be at most three stories per person.
  4. The last date was the 20th of May, 2013 AD (which is the reason that I'm posting this today).
My Three Terribly Tiny Tales, then, were:

Story 1
He held her head down inside the tank full of milk. She struggled, but her body grew stiff soon.

"I told you I wanted my coffee black."

***

Story 2
The war was over. The victorious army killed, plundered, and raped. He took another sip of his coffee as the screen said 'Level 2 complete'.

***

Story 3
He gave the college belle the special coffee he had worked on for years. She took one sniff. They woke up at his place the next morning.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Take that, BCCI!

This article has also been published here on CricketCountry. I do not typically cross-post, but this somehow had to be posted.

***

Remember, BCCI?

The day when you thought that the IPL was a big thing? That auctioning players like cattle was a neat idea?

The day when that ostentatious opening ceremony at Bangalore took place, five years back, followed by Brendon McCullum's carnage?

You told everyone that IPL was "the greatest show on earth", or something on those lines, remember?

You thought cricket was about glamour, glitz, and loud music. You showcased female flesh outside the boundary lines to add to the appeal of the tournament. You organised lavish post-match parties and publicised them. You renamed sixes to DLF Maximums (and thought it sounded cool).

You thought everything was gettable if you had enough cash.

That man Shane Warne proved you wrong, remember? Along with the Rajasthan Royals management, Warne had hand-picked players he wanted on a shoestring budget by IPL standards, and went on to win the tournament on strategy, skills, commitment, and passion. And by passion I do not mean choreographed celebrations after taking wickets.

You possibly thought that it was a lesson for the franchises to learn, not the organisers. What you did not realise that though money is important, there are some basic things that cannot be tampered with.

The same holds for tournaments. Spend as much money as you can, glamorise it - do whatever you can. But do not tamper with the basics – the aspects of cricket that have made it the Queen of Sports. The basics are crucial. Warne showed you why, and how. But you didn't get the subtle message. It was possibly too subtle.

For heaven’s sake, do not compare this with the English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga. The sport of football is structured in a club format. Cricket thrives on international contests, not club competitions.

Do you know how it works in cricket? Have you ever seen Australia or England touring other countries during their home series or domestic seasons? You never will. The Indians go, of course. I’m not saying that India is the worst team of the three. I’m emphasising on the intent of the boards, BCCI – not the potential of the teams.

I know you will mention Kerry Packer. Do you know what Packer did? Packer had revolutionised the entire payment structure and levels of cricketers worldwide, and once the board agreed to him, he withdrew and made a truce, happy with his television rights.

He brought in coloured clothing and white balls and black sight-screens to the sport. Yes, I know they look ridiculous. But Packer's conflict was with the board – not with the sport. He did not ridicule the sport. He did not tamper with the basics. ICL did the same. Additionally, they also tried something different, like using the Jayadevan’s Method instead of Duckworth-Lewis. Neither did Zee try to prove that ICL was bigger than the game. They were taking on a board, not the sport.

Do you think you've gone the same way? You're not countering a board, BCCI, or standing up for some players' rights. You ARE the board. Not only that, you ARE the richest cricket body. You have enough power to ensure that DRS doesn't happen universally; or to make sure that a Bangladesh tour of India is the only possible tour that hasn't ever happened since the inception of Test cricket. Just because it wouldn't have generated enough revenue or interest.

You could have changed the world of cricket for the good. Did you ever try to do that? Don’t you think it would have generated enough revenue if you did?

Remember when you tempted Chris Gayle out of national commitments? Remember when it was because of you that Lasith Malinga quit Test cricket? Remember when it was because you showed the moolah that a legend of Ricky Ponting's stature came out of retirement to ridicule himself?

I don't blame you for all that, BCCI. Gayle, Malinga, and Ponting were lured by money, and their decisions were their own. But what you did not realise, BCCI, that though incidents like these were personal triumphs for you, there was always a flip side to it.

You did not realise that the players who can forego their national commitments for greed are very likely to go a step further: if you had bought them, they're quite likely to sell you out as well. You have created the greed in them. Punish them, ban them if you feel like, but the joke is on you this time.

You have made the cricketers realise that IPL pays them enough to make them less interested in international cricket. The day is not far when the bookies will pay them enough to make the same people have the same attitude towards you, BCCI.

What was that again? Hansie Cronje? Salman Butt? Or that teenager who was all set to become the next Wasim Akram? Or the others like Salim Malik or Mohammad Azharuddin?

They were stray cases, BCCI. Greed has, and always been there. Some people are born with it, some others are tempted. Match-fixing happens; they always have.

The difference between them and Sreesanth and co. is the simple fact that it was YOU who had sowed the seeds of greed in the hearts of these players, showing off your unabashed, perverse hunger for power. They would probably not have wanted more money if you had not shown them the way.

These cricketers have set the ball rolling. Dark days lie ahead of you, BCCI. Very, very dark days.

***

PS: My heart goes out to you, Rahul Dravid. You remain one of my heroes, and will remain one of the greatest cricketers and ambassadors of the sport. I know you feel betrayed. But then, if this is the beginning of a bailout of cricket from the ghastly clutches of IPL, I think you'll accept it the way expect their heroes to do.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Where have you been hiding, Karan Johar?

Disclaimer 1: This is not a review.
Disclaimer 2: This articles contains spoilers.
More prominent version of Disclaimer 2:

*** THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
*** IT MAY NOT BE A GOOD IDEA TO READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED BOMBAY TALKIES AND INTEND TO WATCH IT ***

Bombay Talkies was a nice experience overall. It was the perfect homage to Bollywood (not Indian cinema) in the most unexpected possible manner. All four directors - and the item-song - pay tribute to Bollywood in a fashion different from the other.

There was Anurag Kashyap, arguably the greatest Indian director since 1992, holding up the rear (with his movie Murabba) - and coming out of his comfort zone of the darkness that defines his movies so vividly. It was about a dream, about a unique song, and about Amitabh Bachchan. Though this was the weakest of the four movies (if you know me, you would probably know how hard it is for me to criticise Anurag Kashyap), you cannot miss it if you're an Amitabh Bachchan fan. Or even a murabba fan.

There was Dibakar Banerjee, who chose the easiest path in his Star - to adapt a Satyajit Ray story, to cast Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and to recall the almost forgotten (but a theatre great) Sadashiv Amrapurkar. There was beautiful camerawork (like a remote-controlled car moving crossing the path of the real cars - epitomising the protagonist's character), the single shot during Nawazuddin's rehearsals, and many others. It also showcases the father-daughter relationship beautifully, and the protagonist's dreams of being a hero in his daughter's eyes. It was also the only movie that involves an active participation in the movie, and is definitely the best of the lot.

There was Zoya Akhtar, who, being fully aware of her limitations, came up with a beautiful movie (Sheila ki Jawani) involving two children - siblings - pulling off excellent performances in a movie with a supposedly controversial plotline. Ranvir Shorey impresses, but shows enough sense not to try and take control of the movie - and sensibly acts in an undertone - remaining in the backdrop all along. It also features Katrina Kaif in a delightful appearance, and is a nice embodiment of Bollywood's direct representation on Indian people, albeit in a non-trivial, if dark fashion.

There was also the much-awaited item song, featuring the who's who of Bollywood, first individually, and then together (a scene where Anil Kapoor - even at this age - was easily the one who stood out), which also had Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan in the same frame, something that had evaded us for years (read Q9, part II of this quiz by Diptakirti for more details on this).

***

That brings us to Karan Johar.

I was taken somewhat aback when I had first learnt that Karan Johar would be one of the four directors of this movie that was supposed to be a tribute to 100 Years of Indian Cinema. Agreed, it had to be a Bollywood director, given that it is a Bollywood production.

Among the other three, Anurag Kashyap is already a living legend, and Dibakar Banerjee is getting there. I was a bit skeptic about Zoya Akhtar (even after Luck by Chance, and especially after Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara).

After all, there was Shyam Benegal, who still directs, and has produced a masterpiece like Well Done Abba very recently. There was Shimit Amin, brilliant and innovative. There was Vishal Bharadwaj, soulful and at times, dark. There was Nagesh Kukunoor, producing brilliant movies on a consistent basis. There were Ram Gopal Varma and Priyadarshan, who keep on oscillating between the outstanding and terrible (which made them risky options, I guess). And of course, there was Rajkumar Hirani.

Why Karan Johar, then? Did they want to make the movie a commercial success? Was that the only reason? Even if that was true, what was wrong with Rajkumar Hirani? I simply could not digest it.

Let me go to the beginning. I had disliked Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (I had written about my experience of watching it) with a passion.

I had simply loathed Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (to the extent that I had blurted out YES! when Amitabh Bachchan slapped Hrithik Roshan in the movie.

I had sat through Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, though it was a complete hash-up version of what could have been made a nice movie.

I thought My Name is Khan had all the potential to become a great film. It was also Johar's first effort to do something different. It seemed incoherent, but was generally a nice watch. In the discussion panel mentioned here Karan Johar had a blast at censorship: he claimed that about a quarter of lines in My Name is Khan had to be left out, not because of the Censor Board, but because of the pressure created by the Government of certain states.

As for Student of the Year, I had felt no urge to watch it. I don't even know what the movie is about. Chances are that I'll never watch it, either.

HOWEVER.

There is a big HOWEVER.

I have also felt that (don't laugh) Karan Johar has always had the potential to become a good director. It's not that he can't. It's just that he won't. Somewhat like Shah Rukh Khan in front of the camera.

I won't go into the vivid portrayal of Rizwan Khan in My Name is Khan, which is easily the best Karan Johar movie till date. Not only did the movie address various social and political issues, it also handles the relationship between two individuals amidst all the turmoil - and it handles that quite capably. Given that 25% of the scenes had to be left out, it would probably have been a very good movie.

I will emphasise on two smaller, much-viewed, but less talked-about scenes. The first one is from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (one of the most horrific movies of all time). However, as the movie drones on, and the main characters all assemble, intentionally or otherwise, in a mall, Karan Johar pulls off a poignant scene that takes your breath away for a couple of minutes or so.

Nothing more, nothing less than what was required. Excellent camera-work, capturing every person  on the screen displaying their perfect emotions (I agree that virtually everyone was a good actor, but that doesn't take anything away from the director).


Then, again, there is this beautifully picturised song in an otherwise bland, quirky movie that makes you wake up from boredom and suddenly makes you pay attention to.


My point is - there was never any doubt that he could. He had always shown occasional glimpses of his potential. He just wouldn't, and that made it more frustrating.

And then, in  his Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh in Bombay Talkies, he came to his elements. He was always good at portraying emotions - even in the most ordinary of movies. They used to be Utopian emotions, though. Here, he hits you - and hits you hard. Here, the emotions have been captured, and how!

The movie takes off with a scene that makes you sit up with a jolt. How many Indian movies have you seen that start with a youth pulling his father out of his bed and almost beating him up because the latter had misinterpreted the son's homosexuality: "Main chhakka nahin hoon! Main gay hoon!"

No, Bollywood movies do not start like that. They never had. Especially Karan Johar movies. Would you have ever believed that the first minute of a Karan Johar movie slaps you hard with a strong LGBT message? I wouldn't have, for sure.

You feel the Johar's intensity throughout the movie. The sexual undercurrent; the unsaid eroticism, only the tip of which had been touched; the solace one seeks in Bollywood music; the power of music that makes an adult submit to a child; the brilliant use of two all-time classics (lag ja gale and ajeeb daastan hai ye); the Joharish one-liners. ("Will you come in?" "Will you come out?")

No overflow of emotions. Everything measured out with the precision of a surgeon. No needless song. No uncalled-for mush. No 19th-century family bonding. No adjustment for stars. No uber-rich businessmen. No Kirron Kher.

And then, there was the troika: the surprise package of Saqib Saleem, the emotional mess of Randeep Hooda; and the restrained, intelligent performance of Rani Mukherji, back to her best. Johar's excellent use of the three actors, and getting the best out of them: especially Rani Mukherji, whose subtle array of emotions has been brilliant given the testing, claustrophobic conditions under which the drama unfolded.

Now I know why his section was the first of the four. It was a fitting beginning to an excellent tribute to a hundred years of Indian cinema.

Make more of these, Karan. I always knew you can. It's time you do as well.

***

PS: One of the four movies also features an emu. Called Anjali. I kid you not. I won't tell which one, though.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ghitorni and Karan Johar

So Delhi it is.

For many people, Delhi is an excellent place to live as long as you're equipped with the basics of life, like multiple firearms, huge stacks of banknotes, large cars, political power, corruption, and, well, that organ of the body whose enlargement procedures often turn up in the form of raunchy pictures on illegal movie download pages. Also, chauvinism is optional, but it does make you feel like a proper Delhi-ite.

Having said all that, the average Delhi-ite isn't really a bad person. He rides the metro, eats a lot of rajma and pneer (paneer for anyone outside Delhi), makes the most wonderful kababs, and takes a lot of pride in living in the capital of the country.

I was asleep in my guest-house, rather peacefully, on a Sunday morning, as all mortal working people are supposed to do. There was a call. Two, actually. However, they ended up being missed calls, since I was doing what every sensible person does on a Sunday morning - which is to cuddle up against a stack of pillows and dream of Mila Kunis.

It was, of course, Bimbabati the Short. She and Satrajit the Tall (both from Patha Bhavan, and hence very cool individuals) wanted to go to a Film Festival at Siri Fort. The worrying bit was that they were keen on taking me as well, for whatever reason.

The schedule read thus:

Auditorium II:
3.30 PM - Dharmputra (A national award-winning Yash Chopra movie that almost no one I know has seen)
6 PM - A discussion panel on 100 Years of Indian Cinema, featuring the four directors of Bombay Talkies: Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar, and Zoya Akhtar.
7 PM - The premiere of Bombay Talkies.

Auditorium III:
1.30 PM - Shonar Kella
4.30 PM - Ghare Baire

Blanket rule: everything was free and open to all, but entry was strictly on a first-come-first-serve basis.

I had long, in-depth, somewhat intriguing conversation with Bimbabati the Short (who shall subsequently be referred to as Bimbabati) and Satrajit the Tall (who shall be referred to as Satrajit the Tall anyway: tall, big-hearted people deserve long names).

There was another critical parameter, though. Bimbabati's maid had not arrived, and without her, that wonderful girl's life was as useless as a dyslexic spell-checking application. So the three of us had another discussion from various locations in Delhi, and built a priority list:
Top priority: Bimbabati's maid; the entire schedule will be laid out as per her arrival
Second priority: The premiere of Bombay Talkies
Third priority: The discussion panel
Fourth priority: Shonar Kella
Fifth priority: Ghare Baire
Sixth priority: Dharmputra

There was a catch, though. As mentioned before, the entire Film Festival worked on a first-come-first-serve  basis; this meant that if Priority Two needed to be met, we also had to sit through Priority Three, which was not a problem. However, this also meant that Priority Six had also to be met - since we needed to be on time for Priority Three.

This meant that we had to sacrifice Priority Five. We could have done Priority Four and then moved on to Six (and then move on to Three and Two, in that order), but then, Priority One took over. The Maid did turn up sufficiently late for everyone to skip Priority Four.

At this point everything was laid out perfectly: we meet at Green Park Metro Station at 3 PM, watch Dharmputra from 3.30 PM (obviously, reaching before that didn't make any sense: after all it was Dharmputra - and who cared about Dharmputra?).

***

This meant that I could not sleep past 1 PM, which was a tough ask on a Sunday morning with no chore to attend to (including consumption of a breakfast largely comprising of butter- or ghee-rich parathas). So I slept on and on, till I was woken up by that ridiculous alarm tone of mine that could have driven Gautam Buddha mad enough to strangle Bimbisar or whoever existed in his proximity.

I woke up, had a light lunch (by NCR standards), and set off. I took one of those overpriced little green monsters (that are affectionately referred to as auto-rickshaws in this part of the world), reached the metro station, and boy, was I impressed!

It was nothing like the Kolkata Metro, which, I must remind everyone, had started in 1984, and at that time, was voted the the best metro in the world by BBC. However, they haven't really evolved in the subsequent years, and currently looks as out of place as Dev Anand and his mufflers would do in a Durjoy Datta book.

The Delhi Metro, though, is completely on another planet: it's convenient, ticket counters are aplenty, the trains are frequent and comfortable, the announcements are clear, the overall look is quite snazzy, and unlike the linear route of its Kolkata counterpart, it connects the entire city and its four adjacent towns in an intricate network. When I was in Delhi fifteen years back, travelling to Old Delhi from Katwaria Sarai ('Kats' for us) usually involved the same time taken by a newborn to reach a midlife crisis, but these days the distance is covered in a jiffy.

So, Delhi Metro is cool. The train arrived. The doors opened. I stepped inside. The doors closed. I found a seat (this was Sunday afternoon). There was a petite, pretty girl seated next to me reading Amish Tripathi (which, I guess, is a rather common spectacle in a Delhi Metro), leaving me torn between two very strong emotions.

Now, don't get me wrong on Amish Tripathi. He has excellent business strategies, and has a huge fan-following: it's just that I do not like his style. Maybe I'm jealous of his success the way I am of Durjoy Datta's.

Anyway, back to bigger things. The train was traversing the long stretches of green that Delhi has always been. And then, after a few halts, it reached a station called Ghitorni.

Ghitorni.

Now, when I was in Mumbai (rather non-affectionately referred to as paawpuri by me in the past), I had come across some horrible-sounding names, like Ghatkopar, Chinchpokli, or Koparkhairane, and Bangalore has her very own Bannerghatta. But I guess Ghitorni takes the cake.

Ghitorni. Ghitorni. Ghitorni. Ghitorni. Ghitorni. Ghitorni. Ghitorni. Ghitorni. Ghitorni.

Just hearing the name a few times may make you want to jump from a multi-storeyed building, then poison yourself, then hang yourself from the nearest ceiling fan, swim in a lake with giant weights tied to your feet, and then sit casually on the red bench-looking rail of a metro track.

Or worse, go on a lifetime diet of oats, peanut butter, and boiled beetroots. Listening to Himmesh Reshammiya. Reading Amish (there I go again). Watching Fard... oh well, forget it. You get the idea, though.

But still, Ghitorni.

***

Anyway, I got down at Green Park, and was soon joined by the other two. And then, off we went in an auto - the three of us - the very tall youth, the very short youthess, and the very overweight I. The auto meandered through the alleys of the city that boasts of Rahul Gandhi and Jyoti Randhawa, arguably the two most envied males in India right now.

Anyway, we reached Siri Fort, and then bumped against a wall as hard as brick and as contour-free as Arjun Rampal. No, not literally.

THE BOMBAY TALKIES PREMIERE HAS BEEN CANCELLED.

No, I kid you not. They had advertised the premiere on their website all along. That was also the chief reason behind us dragging ourselves from the comfort of our beds. And now, it has been cancelled. And replaced by a 24-minute short film called Bawra Mann based on an extremely convoluted plot revolving around an author who writes erotica.

What was worse, they did not provide anybody with a reason anywhere. No one bothered, either. This, after all, was the city where Chetan Bhagat's first novel was based. The second one too (or was it somewhere else?).

We had a quick discussion. What came first? Sitting through Priority Six (which would guarantee a seat for Priority Two), or Priority Five, which would get over in an-hour-and-a-half or so (but would virtually rule out an availability of seats for Priority Two)?

***

We went for the first.

But before that, let me elaborate on the foyer. You have to give it to the organisers. It was a very informative display, starting from the history of cinema to the regional movies, complete with interactive small screens. The information was so vivid that it even had Tapas Pal's name on it. Beat that.

Dharmputra, as it turned out, was a quite decent movie, though it had seven very, very lengthy songs. It involved BR Chopra's trademark title music, a bearded Ashok Kumar, a very thoughtful Manmohan Krishna, a young, vivacious Nirupa Roy, a perpetually crying Mala Sinha, a slim Deven Varma, a rare sighting of Indrani Mukherjee, and a very skinny Shashi Kapoor making a topless appearance.

But all in all, a controversial plotline and a powerful script that had caused a lot of uproar in the early 1960s (including riots at the theatres) - and possibly an example of what Yash Chopra could have been like, had he not been lured by European grasslands covered with tendrils of smoke where women in chiffon sarees either sing or whisper to each other.

That, and the information that a temple is also called butkhana ('but' should be pronounced like 'put', but with a soft T - somewhat like বুৎ or बुत). That was probably the high point of the movie.

We did not get seats, though - as a surprisingly high number of people had turned out to watch Dharmputra, which is a quite intriguing fact: Satrajit the Tall, Bimbabati, and I kept on discussing the probable reason for this. Could they have taken the same strategy as we had? Could that many Delhi-ites have realised that the only one to catch the talk show was to sit through Dharmputra (which turned out to be a rather good movie in the end)?

Anyway, we sat to the left of the audience - on the ground - and soon became immersed in the movie. We could not leave for any reason, since the ground seats were in demand as well. All in all, fond memories of film festivals came to my mind, as we shared a single Pepsi purchased by Bimbabati at the foyer.

Somewhere around the Interval (when the word INTERVAL became etched in blood on the screen), a not-too-slim woman started a commotion at one of the side-gates; a few security guards became busy, and she had to be ushered out of the auditorium.

However, as Dharmputra approached a breathtaking climax, Bimbabati, bless that girl, somehow managed to overhear a few stray comments - something related to the fact that the talk show was being shifted to Auditorium I (which was scheduled not to host anything for the day).

This was serious. Surely they couldn't do this to us? I got up and confirmed with one of the guards, and yes, it had indeed been shifted to Audi I (the abbreviation they used to refer to Auditorium I). So we got up and rushed to beat the rest of the Dharmputra audience to Audi I.

***

Despite a rather overweight, middle-aged woman's desperate attempts to misdirect us, we found our way to the humongous Auditorium I - and, surprise, surprise - we even found seats!

There we were, perched atop comfortable push-back seats, waiting for Anurag Kashyap and the rest of the quatret to appear on stage. A heron-like woman clad in a sari kept on announcing (about 771 times or so) that the premiere of Bombay Talkies has been cancelled, and people should take their seats for the discussion panel to take place.

And then, just when we thought nothing could go wrong from there - the girl on stage brought out what she definitely thought was a winning smile, and announced the names of the guests: Kaveree Bamzai of India Today (who was supposed to anchor the show), Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, and - hold your breath - Dhritiman Chatterjee.

I had half-expected Jai Arjun to host the show. I could not think of anyone more appropriate. But then, you get what you get.

THERE WAS NO ANURAG KASHYAP. HE HAD APPARENTLY LEFT EARLY FOR A FLIGHT.

Now, I have nothing against Dhritiman Chatterjee. If anything, I admire him a lot for his performance in Pratidwandi. But, then, this was supposed to be a talk show on Bombay Talkie, a movie to commemorate a hundred years of Indian cinema - and it was only appropriate that the four directors would assemble together.

Less than 24 hours ago, Diptakirti had given me a first-hand account of how Anurag Kashyap had pulled out of another discussion panel. On that occasion he had been waiting for the scripts of Gangs of Wasseypur to arrive from Spain (his luggage had been misplaced). I just hope that we get to see a masterpiece at our expense, and become a part of history.

I guess you should not expect any more from a city that goes vegetarian once a week because The Great Ape was born on that day.

Anyway, the talk got under way. To her credit, Ms Bamzai held her self quite well among the stars, and so did Dhritiman. It was enlightening to learn that Dhritiman had acted in movies in two different South Indian languages, and Karan Johar used to watch movies in a loop, and was inspired greatly by Guru Dutt. Karan Johar was smart, Dibakar Banerjee quite witty ("you don't have to clap after everything"), Zoya Akhtar dignified, and Dhritiman Chatterjee insightful. All in all, a good session.

***

After the discussion panel the audience was asked to ask questions - which is when the real fun began. The first question came from a random person, who asked Karan Johar "Sir, I have written a script on a Muslim girl - how do you think I should make it into a movie in Mumbai?"

I guess I should mention here that this followed a long, heated discussion on censorship, mostly related to the restrictions they had to face from the Governments of various states and multiple religious groups. It was unanimously accepted that such restrictions were beneath normal individuals, and everyone trying to make a mark as a filmmaker had to face such hurdles.

Obviously, such a question did not go very well with the men on the stage. Karan Johar snapped back  immediately, asking him whether he had tried at all. Dibakar Banerjee was less polite, when he retorted that if the only salient feature of the script was the fact that it was based on a Muslim girl (the man mentioned nothing other than that), then it was a doomed script to begin with. Zoya Akhtar maintained her dignified self., and Dhritiman looked somewhat bored, with a what-am-I-doing-here look.

After a couple of more questions came the killer question (amidst a lot of boos): "ye jo aajkal ke movies mein itni chhoti kapde pehne ladkiyon ko dikhayi jaati hai, ye jo vulgarity hoti rehti hai, iske baare mein aap kuchh nahin kar sakte?" (Can't you do something about the fact that women in contemporary movies wear revealing attire, and the amount of vulgarity has increased with time?)

All hell broke loose. Zoya Akhtar could not hold herself back anymore. For someone who sat somewhat quietly for the past hour or so, she showed surprising aggression, and virtually ripped the man apart. In fact, she shouted so much that her words became almost indecipherable.

Karan Johar reacted as well: he simply asked the guy the name of the last Bollywood movie the man had watched, in response to which he simply stammered. But it was Zoya who really ripped him apart:
Aapne Agneepath dekhi hai? (Have you watched Agneepath?)
Jee haan. (Oh yes.)
Kiyun? Kiyun ki aapne chikni Chameli dekhi thi TV pe; aur phir aap dekhne chale gaye. (Why exactly? I'll tell you why - because you had seen chikni Chameli on TV and then went to watch it on big screen.)

The man kept quiet. Someone (one of Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar) yelled "you think just like a rapist!" The auditorium responded in a tremendous applause. It took me some time to realise that I was staring open-mouthed, gasping at the audacity of the man: making such statements in a group, or among peers was something else: how on earth did he muster such courage to ask such questions in person?

Is this what the world has come to? The moral police doesn't only attack in group, they stand up - alone in an ocean of (supposedly) educated people - and voice their opinions, attacking a few renowned film personalities in public? Mind you, I'm not a Karan Johar fan - I never was - but that's not the point: whatever be the quality of art, it should not be restricted. Certainly not by a bunch of morons whose sole purpose for watching movies is to ogle at women's cleavages during item numbers.

I wonder what Anurag Kashyap would have done to him.

The rest passed peacefully (though there was a roar of laughter when one of the enquirers presented himself as Dr Rajinikanth), and everyone left in peace. The heron-like woman (can I call her Heronica?) announced the end of the discussion panel, and we left.

***

There was a small bit left, though. The foyer was decorated with The Master's artwork - including the rarest of print commercials (Satrajit the Tall took a few pictures) I have never seen before. There were book illustrations, book covers, movie posters. There were even photographs clicked by Him. It was only fitting that I am writing this on his birthday.

We headed for Hauz Khas Village for a hearty meal, but that is another story.

***

PS: I had to pass Ghitorni again on my way back.

Ghitorni. Ghitorni.

***

PS 2: Ghitorni should be pronounced as ghee-tore-knee.

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