Saturday, June 18, 2011

Random ramblings from the road




I. Ghosh and Ghose




Book marketing is a big thing these days. So, suddenly I find Amitav Ghosh all over in newspapers and magazines (probably, soon on television too, Sunil Sethi’s Just Books or Anuradha Sengupta’s Beautiful People) – with his interviews timed for the launch of his new book “The River of Smoke” – a sequel to the earlier “Sea of Poppies”, the second of his Ibis trilogy.

Excessive publicity of a book or a movie makes me wary – but I trust Arunava (Sinha)’s review (click here). Arunava – who was a year junior in school, has turned out to be one of the finest translator of Bengali literature. His – English rendition of Sankar’s Chowringhee is a big hit and was recently also reviewed in The Economist. I loved his – My Kind of Girl (Buddhadev Bose’ “Amar Moton Meye” ) and looking forward to another Bose masterpiece – Tithidore, to be published later this year. Arunava has recommended – the new translation of Shesher Kobita by Radha Chakraborty (Farewell Song , Penguin) will get hold of it soon.

Back to Amitava Ghosh and The River of Smoke – I am still a bit scared of getting mired in his excessive research, which has weighed down some of his previous works (especially – The Sea of Poppies). So, I have thought of a way out – just to be sure. I have promised to first gift it to a friend - who’s literary sensibilities I implicitly trust – for “book tasting”. But, the problem is – she is quite smitten by Ghosh the author. So, in this case, her judgement may not be entirely unbiased. Not that Ghosh will really worry about one less reader or a copy not sold.

(Read my earlier blogs on Amitava Ghosh In Bed with Ghose and Sailing with Priyanka on the Ibis )



II. Hardware vs Software


I have already managed to offend at least one person by professing my love for Mumbai on Facebook – while writing in the same breath that, I feel positively depressed every time I land in Calcutta or set foot on Howrah Station. We have agreed to settle scores in private.

For those of you who may be interested, I had written about my love affair with Bombay in an earlier blog (click here to read: She loves me, she loves me not). For Calcutta, I will probably have to write a book.

But, while channel surfing yesterday – I briefly heard Shuvaprasanna , the “poriborton sheel” (read “Trinamool panthi”) artist, say something on Star Ananda that struck a chord. He said – one of our inheritance from Rabindranath should have been the sense of aesthetics and beauty. Today, Bengalis seem to have lost it completely. He cited – Nandan (the theatre complex next to Rabindra Sadan) as an example – where one is blasted by the putrid smell of urinals as soon as one enters. I have never been there – so wouldn’t know and have to take his word for it.

For me the biggest eye-sores are the atrocious architecture – even in newer and more affluent areas such as Salt Lake. Some are not just ugly but real monstrosities that defy all sense of aesthetics. I have a theory for that. I think every Bengali is a frustrated architect at heart (apart from other things - such as a poet, see the fancy poetic names we give to our homes). Therefore, they do not find value in appointing a professional for designing their homes and would rather depend on the “raj-mistry” (mason) to do it at their bidding.

I have no reason to doubt Mamata’s resolve to transform West Bengal. Apart from turning Calcutta to London (which shouldn’t be difficult because Calcutta was indeed fashioned after London – as the comparison of the maps of Central London and Central Calcutta would easily show) and Darjeeling to Switzerland – I am told she wants to make Calcutta Airport an international hub like Singapore.

Everything is possible and putting together the ‘hardware’ is least of the problem. But, the real issue would be the ‘software’ – will she be able to change the mindset and work-culture of the people.

I think of this every time, I have to catch a morning flight from Dumdum and get stuck in long serpentine queues – sometimes up to almost an hour. I have taken a count – the Calcutta Airport has as many security scanners and channels as Bombay – which operates many more flights in any given hour. Why don’t we have such long queues in Mumbai then – it’s all to do with the attitude of the people. (it’s amazing how – the efficiency of the same organization like CISF or even the airlines vary from city to city).

Mamata's lofty declarations of “internationalizing” Indian Railways hasn't met with spectacular success. Therefore, I don’t feel so confident about the “poriborton” she’d be able to create, by rhetorics alone, without some major genetic re-engineering.



III. A matter of taste

Talking of cities – just returned from a short trip to Kuala Lumpur. This is probably my 5th or 6th visit to KL. But, I have still not warmed up to the city. I, probably, haven’t explored it enough – but don’t think it has too much too offer either. It still retains vestiges of its colonial past and has pretensions of being a ‘world city’ like Singapore – but somehow falls flat despite its put on neo-modern fa├žade (sometimes you get the impression that it’s trying a bit too hard). Bangkok – is crowded and dirty but it has greater character and, more importantly, it has life that engulfs you like a wave. Hong Kong is a study in contrast – between its British heritage and Chinese hum-drum co-existing side-by-side. Shanghai and Tokyo are a different world of their own (haven’t been to Beijing).

But, I guess the rest of Malaysia is very beautiful. Expatriates also like to live here – says it has got a lot more to offer than Singapore and is well located to travel to other parts of South East Asia and the Far East.

Malaya food is not a patch on Thai cuisine ( I like it only in the US – when I am dying for Indian fare, it comes closest to my taste. The Penang chain of restaurants in the East Coast are my favourites). It’s a fusion of strong spices from different regions (including, of course, India) but lacking in the subtle flavours of Thailand. And, when it comes to women. I am yet to find a real Malaya beauty. Finally, it's all a matter of taste.

IV. Murder in Dey-light

The murder of J Dey – the journalist really saddened me. He was part of the launch team of Hindustan Times, Mumbai Edition. In fact, the inaugural issue had the lead story with his by-line about the infamous “Ash-Sallu” tapes. Though later the authenticity of the tapes were questioned (forensic tests etc like all the recent tape “leaks”), it didn’t take away anything from his reputation of being one of the most formidable feared investigative journalist and crime reporter in the country.



A man of few words – his image in a checked short-sleeved shirt (usually green or crimson with dark checks) and jeans, clutching his helmet is still stuck in my mind. I doubt if anything will come out of the investigations – despite the cudgels being picked up by his former colleagues and compatriots. The rot in our system is far too deep and the mafia-police nexus far too strong. So, one can only pray for the peace of his departed soul. A sad commentary on our society. But, unfortunately that’s the reality of the world we are living in today.