Scenes from An Election

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buddha-bar

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

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sharmila

[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

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fansrk

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.

Faith.

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Leaving Maryland

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J-building

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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Thank you Virat Kohli

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kohli

An India-Pakistan cricket match is not like every other game. Cricketers say that all the time “It’s just another game”, and I understand why they do. But we know it’s not true.

It’s like saying your first kiss is the same as the ones that came after it. No one is buying it.

Because like a first kiss, an India-Pakistan cricket match is an anchor-point in your life. Not all games, but definitely some.

As time passes and one day merges into the other, like an endless march of India-Sri Lanka matches, it becomes difficult to find yourself in your own past. It’s then that you need these little anchor points, to which you can fly back at a moment’s notice when you feel the need to be nostalgic, and this need, as any forty-year old will tell you, increases as you grow older.

At least for me, so many of these anchor-points are cricket matches and out of them so many India-Pakistan encounters.  What exams was I preparing for (or not) when Sohail taunted Prasad? Who did I watch that game with, you know the one with Rajesh Chauhan? How did I dance when Dada defeated the Pakistanis in Toronto?  How did I jump up, in that mixed crowd of Indian and Pakistani fans at Stony Brook,  that first Shoaib Akthar over in 2003? What went through my head when time froze and Misbah turned his bat around for that scoop shot?

That’s what makes India-Pakistan cricket so special. It’s not the humiliation of a country or a settling of long-standing political scores, and I just hate when the media frames it in those terms, but those little moments that make sense, not in just in your life, but in the lives of others. It’s as if the lines of millions of Indians meet at those anchor-points, and then hurry along their respective trajectories. It’s what makes them so powerful, so emotionally intense, this resonance, for only at these anchor-points that we the millions become one, running the exact same gamut of emotions, asking the same questions (“Why isn’t Dhoni playing Bhajji on a spinning Eden pitch”) and making the same jokes about AB Junior.

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The Cliched Cow Joke Redux

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[Something I posted on FB]

Congress: You have two cows. They take both, sell one to Italy, put the money in a Swiss bank and name the other Rahul.

BJP: You have two cows. They force you to worship both.

AAP: You have two cows. They steal the cows at night, blame Modi in the morning, and then milk one on even days and the other on odd days.

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A Birthday Story: The Sequel

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meandmamchoo

[On December 30, 2005, when I turned thirty, I had written a post called “A Birthday Story”, an imaginary conversation between a 20 and a 30-year old me. Now, exactly ten years later when I turn forty, is the sequel. A Birthday Story-Part 2]

Late night. A glass of diet coke and rum by my side, because I no longer have normal Coke. Not because it is better for my health, but because it is better for my conscience.Surfing the net when all of a sudden my messenger window pops up. There’s a message:

BirthdayBoy_at_30: Hi. I know this sounds kind of weird. I am you , when you were 30. I just wanted to see if you are online….had some questions to ask you.

BirthdayBoy_at_40: I think we did this before. And nothing much good came from it.

BB30: Whoa. I sure turned out to be a cranky old man.

BB40: I just turned forty. Of course I am a bit….emotional.

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