Reading Kuldip Nayar’s autobiography – Beyond the Lines (Roli Books) now. Nayar is the sort of person – even whose best friends would find it difficult to understand the reasons for his rise to such fame. His writing style is lackluster. He doesn't have the intellectual depth of say – B G Verghese, erudition of Sham Lal or even Khushwant Singh’s knowledge of history. His gossipy tidbits and juicy nuggets often appear as part conjecture and part concoction to be consumed with a large dollop of salt (he admits to having manufactured an 'interview' with Sheikh Abdullah, since the Sheikh had refused to say anything on record about the Emergency. His story of Narasimha Rao sitting at a Puja, while the Babri Masjid was being demolished is, at best, fantastic and his insinuations about foulplay in Shastri's death is plain grist for the rumor mill). He indulges in sweeping generalizations (Bengalis are “anti-centre” – we are anti-everything!!), is an indefatigable namedropper and has deep personal prejudices (has something unkind to say about almost every one he has mentioned in the book and no qualms about getting even with his friends and contemporaries).
To me – he was more of a reporter (than an editor or journalist) – who managed to position himself at the right time with the right people at the right place – and obviously thrived on his ‘connections’ (including that of his in-laws, the Sachars. Old Congress stalwart Bhim Sen Sachar was his father-in-law and Justice Rajinder Sachar author of the famous Sachar Report is his ‘saala’). By his own account, he comes across as a bit of a 'political animal' too. He doesn't make any secret of trading in favours and takes pride in his purported back-room political dealings. He claims to have "helped" Lal Bahadur Shastri become PM ( Pg 262 - why blame poor Barkha Dutt trying to put in a word for A Raja ?) Another reason for his success, perhaps, was that, he wrote for the lowest common denominator of the newspaper audience. For his time, he was relatively affluent too (house in plush Vasant Vihar). His book on the Emergency – 'The Judgment' – was an instant best-seller and riding on its popularity he was one of the first Indian journalists to syndicate his column (even before Khushwant Singh, I think). In short, he was an older edition of Shekhar Gupta, no wonder Gupta once referred to him as a “guru” (only to later axe his column from the Express).
Take it with these caveats and you might even enjoy this mildly salacious commentary on the history of post-independence India - seen with tinted (green not sepia) glasses and written with an obtusely slanted pen. Though, I wish the editing of the book was a little more competent (habeas corpus is spelt as ‘habius corpus’ - pg 240) knowing that language isn't Nayar's strongest suit.
Is the Party over ?
Like every July 21st, this year too Mamata brought Calcutta to a grinding halt with Trinamool’s annual show of strength - the “Shahid Divas” rally (Kolkata's pain in Party's gain). All arteries of the city – including the Howrah Bridge – were choked with over 5 lakh people pouring in from all over the state. In contrast, the CPIM had organized a rally of nearly a million cadres on February 19th , which was a picture of organization and discipline. At yesterday’s meeting Mamata famously declared the Trinamool Congress’ decision to go it alone in the state, while still continuing to remain a part of the UPA at the Centre.
Mamata had clearly overplayed her cards on the Presidential Elections in opposing Pranab Mukherjee’s only to eat her own humble pie later on – after being ditched by her new found brother Mulayam. She’s now stuck in an unenviable position where she can’t leave the UPA nor join the NDA – her so called ‘indispensability’ having been seriously compromised with the Samajwadi Party extending support to the UPA (without formally joining it, yet) and even Mayawati maintaining a neutral - politically expedient- posture. It’s almost as if she’s begging to be kicked out of the house but Sonia is just extending her agony by not obliging.
Prior to this she faced the minor set-backs in the Municipality Polls (where of all Trinamool lost in Haldia) and the Singur case against Tata Motors.
Will these reverses sober her down a little? I think so. And, that might actually augur well for West Bengal as she is forced to focus on governance and development of the state. It's time to stop partying and start work.
Don’t know what’s the origin of the name “Pice Hotel” – Siliguri is full of them. ‘Kalpana’ is still the most famous but its quality has gone down in recent times I am told. So on this trip, I was taken to Usha Hotel on Jalpai Mor. Lovely Mourola Maccher Jhol, Aad Maccher Jhaal and Shorshe Iilish. The Aad was really fresh and, I was told, comes from Katihar. The Iilsh is of Padma smuggled across the border. Though very nice, the best of the season is yet to come.
Next stop will be “Chalachal” known for its Mangsho Bhaat. A friend on Twitter (@deep_anchor) has recommended Jajabar Hotel on Teesta Bank in Jalpaiguri (specialty - Chitol). But, the place I am waiting to go is ‘Popular Hotel’ in Falakata, near Dhupguri – which by many accounts has the most outstanding ‘imported’ Iilish from Bangladesh.
P.S Another Twitter friend @filmichef thinks “Pice” has its etymological roots in Rice – as these were originally cheap “Bhaater Hotel”. Pice could also be a variation of paisa - writes @geffbeck - indicating you could get a meal for a few paisa here. Remember the adage 'one pice father - mother' ? Or pice could also have come from piece - as you pay by the piece (usually fish). A number of my FB friends affirm the 'paisa' theory ("ek poisha ye pet bhorti khabar").