On Globalization, Trump and Brexit



I grew up in Communist Calcutta, a city of load-shedding black and  Jyoti Basu’s dhoti white.  If there was a category level 5 bad word above bokachoda and chudir bai champakali, it was the word globalization, the hooked talon of the imperialist, or so the Red brothers said, one that they would bury into the chests of our workers and peasants of the Third World and proceed to spill out their entrails.

A few people, among them my father, then a professor of Economics at IIM Calcutta, had argued the other way, that it was the West would be disrupted most by globalization and the so-called Third World would stand to benefit at their expense.

Fast forward decades and it is the imperialists and the free-marketers that are hunkering down in their bomb shelters to contain the radioactive fallout of globalization, with Uncle Sam, the standard-bearer of democracy and cut-throat capitalism, now flirting with fascism and socialism, and Union Jack, the people who brought to you imperialism in the modern world, voting to throw off the foreign yoke and gain “independence”.

As usual, Baba, you were right.

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Udta Punjab–The Review



Thanks to Pahlaj Nihalni’s ceaseless attempts to win Modiji’s Number One chamcha award and Arvind Kejriwal’s equally persistent attempt to make pretty much everything about him, and the pre-release brouhaha fitting perfectly in with the narrative of “intolerant as North Korea”, which in the absence of a functioning opposition has emerged as Modi’s biggest enemy, an idea rather than a party, Udta Punjab was political even before it hit the screens.

And once you have seen it, you realize, that regardless of what came before it, Udta Punjab was always going to be political, intensely political.

Everyone knew Bihar had no law. Thank you Prakash Jha. Everyone knew that Bhais rule Mumbai. Every Sanjay Dutt film tells us that.

But Punjab? Wasn’t it, for the rest of India, the land of plenty, of rustic simplicity, of sarson da khet through which lovers ran into each other’s arms, of “Singh is King”s, jolly bhangra-dancing and loud-laughing, of hearts bigger than the outdoors, of bravery, friendship and love?

Not any more. Broken buildings and broken men in their shadows, catatonic from drugs, politicians handing out bottles of drugs in lieu of blankets, the police under the control of politicians and the drug-mafia (beat the driver, as a wisened cop says, but don’t damage the trucks of the drug-transporters, because, as we know, in Punjab, a truck is personal), toxic intoxicants available in neighborhood pharmacies,  violence and sexual slavery in place of dance and love, and foul language that would make Gulzar go “ma di behen di”.

How did that Punjab become this Punjab, how did the sylvan fantasy become this post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare?

Questions will be asked, by those whose idea of India is from what they watch in films, and the answers, they will find if they care to follow up, will be political.

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The Bhodrolok and the Trinamool



“If none of us voted for Trinamool, how did they win?” When I got this message on Whatsapp from a friend, I couldn’t but help suppress a smile. It went on “Everyone I talked to are disgusted with Didi, and yet, how does it keep winning bigger and bigger every time.”

There was a time when those outside the state could not understand its politics, like how it kept voting for a moribund CPM government for over thirty years. Now even those inside don’t quite understand why.

But they should. They should understand it very well.

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Scenes from An Election



If, like me, you have sat through hours of Bengali marriage videos of others (mostly uncles and aunts), you would be more than aware of the song that always plays in the background: “Laaje ranga holo kone bou go, Aaj mala bodol hobe e raate” (The new wife has gone red with shyness, Tonight the garlands will be exchanged). And if there is any picture for which that song is appropriate, it is this. Politics, they say, make strange bedfellows, and stranger still, is when they have pictures taken like the one above. The alliance between Congress and the CPM is one that is at the same time bizzarre, given their history in Bengal politics, as well as irrelevant, given that Mamata Banerjee will win. If there is any tragedy here it is that of Buddhadeb, arguably the best Chief Minister of Bengal after Bidhan Roy, being brought out of his political crypt and being made to “marry”, like some Kuleen Brahmin senile of a century ago, a man-child, perennially in his political training pants.

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On the future of Indian publishing in English



[Originally written for Factordaily]

The word ‘disruption’ is a prime example of language that I like to call “business Powerpointese”, but if there is any context in which the use of the phrase “in need for disruption” may be excused, I would say it is in the world of commercial publishing in English in India.

Because this is an industry that really needs disruption.

Because no one is really happy.

Or I should say, in keeping with the spirit of using buzzwords, that none of the business’s stakeholders are happy.

First, let’s take the consumers.

Many find the over-abundance of titles like ‘7 Day$ of Luv@Twitter’ or ‘I Fell in Love with You and Then I Fell in Lust With Her’ on bookstore shelves off-putting, while others feel Chetan Bhagat is not writing books fast enough (somewhat like George RR Martin). And everyone, regardless of whether they swear by Ravinder Singh or Ravindranath Tagore, complains about the lack of choice when he or she walks into the bookstore.

Then, bookstore owners. They complain about the poor return-on-investment on books (“they sit on the shelves for too long”) and, if that’s not bad enough, online retailers who do not need to invest in display and have VC capital to underwrite losses, provide price-points with which they cannot compete. Which means closing shops down or books ceding shelf-space to the stuff that sells — Playstation games, soft toys, and compilation CDs of Arijit Singh.

Ask publishers and they reflect the concerns of retail. There are too many books, too few shelves, too much inventory lying in warehouses, and too few orders. And so their focus inevitably shifts away from quality or originality to the marketability of the author and the sexiness of the genre.

Which brings us to the last piece of the puzzle. Authors.

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Fan–The Review



There are two Fans.

One, if you look a bit closely, is about the relationship between the devotee and the God (and no I am not talking about the Sachin biopic), of the blurred lines between devotion and fanaticism.

Gaurav Chandna, a small-time superstar impersonator and obsessive mega-fan of Aryan Khanna, the in-film surrogate of Shahrukh Khan, takes a pilgrimage to Mumbai, hoping to get “five minutes” from the object of his devotion. But once there, he realizes that his God is not interested in giving “even five seconds of his life” to him, and that his over-the-top gestures of devotion are not only not appreciated but leads to his idol pulling strings and getting him beaten up in jail. The rejection leads him to turn on Aryan Khanna, as he embarks on a journey to destroy his God and at the same time, seek his acceptance.

This Fan goes to places most conventional mainstream fare from the Hindi film industry does not. First of all, it takes love, obsessive love, away from the man-woman sexual dynamic, and transposes to another context, as addictive, and potentially as destructive.


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Leaving Maryland



Eleven years ago, I moved to Maryland. In that eleven years, a lot has happened. I had a little daughter. I wrote five books (three published, two in the pipeline), This blog became big. I learned a lot and grew, as a Computer Scientist and as a human being.

And now, I am leaving Maryland. The bags have been packed, the house is empty, and all we need now is to surrender the keys, and take the plane out.

It’s shocking to discover new things about yourself, specially when you are forty years old, but the whole experience of moving from one state to another has left me emotionally drained in a way I could never have imagined.

When I left “home” to do my PhD in ’99, to be honest, I didn’t feel this sad. There was of course tears when my parents waved me away, but when you are leaving the shadow of the great Indian family to make it on your own in a foreign land, the sadness is but fleeting, overwhelmed as you are by this sensation of nervous excitement. And honestly, at that age, you don’t think that much.

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