Friday, May 31, 2013

Love and Lokpal

Keeping in the spirit of 'A room of her own', I succubmed to the phenomenon of 'A book of her own'. Indian writers are churning out new books every week. Most of the books in the market fall in the IIT/IIM category, popularised by Chetan Bhagat. They contain travails of love and live and offer a commentary on the world from the point of view of today's youth. Nobody can vouch for the language or the content, but one thing is certainly true. These books instill the habit of reading in english in Indian youth. These are the stories of the people themselves. They have the same insights, concerns and ideologies and hence, these books become favourites of the students and young professionals.

The 2011 Lokpal Bill movement was, in many ways, a turning point for me. I had begun my FYBA. I was reading classics and books about Indian history. I was writing about the politics in India. I was immersed in a world where the need for change was glaring - I could see that, but I knew not how to bring about this change. The Lokpal Bill movement started around that time. It was love at first sight for me. At the Saras baug protest, I was one of the protestors, carrying a banner and shouting myself hoarse. I attended lectures, went to protests, wrote about the cause furiously, gave impromptu speeches in front of my friends in the canteen. I was enchanted. We all were. India was going to change. We all believed it. The air was on fire with expectations and emotions. The transformation that everyone had been longing for was here, and we all pinned our hopes on it.

It was around that time the idea of the book came about. Harsh Agarwal, a good friend and agent who runs The Asylum played an integral part in the development of the plot. I hashed and rehashed the characters, played them, watched them change. Indeed, in the course of the movement, I had seen many Shloks and Kaveris. I had seen their struggle, their beliefs and passions.

I finished the book at the start of the year 2013.

Book blurb:

Shlok Kulkarni, an architect by day and an Assassin's creed junkie by night is being bombarded with eligible girls by his matchmaking mama. In a bid to escape her and maybe check out a few hot girls while he’s at it, Shlok flees to Delhi, where a massive protest for the Lokpal Bill has been building up.

Kaveri Gokhale has been searching for a cause her whole life. When the winds of the Lokpal blow through the country, she eagerly catches the next train to Delhi to witness history.

When Shlok runs into Kaveri at Jantar Mantar, the sparks are undeniable. As their relationship blossoms, Kaveri discovers a dark secret that leaves her devastated . . . and endangers the fate of billion others. Will Shlok and Kaveri’s love wither or will it withstand the uncertainties of the corrupt politics? Can love truly conquer all ideologies?

 Here is the author bio:

Pooja Wanpal considers reading books the sole aim of her life. In addition to writing, she gives unsolicited advice to people and tries indefatigably to avoid her textbooks. She studies at Fergusson College, Pune and spends most of her time chatting with people over endless cups of coffee in the canteen. Owing to her almost unhealthy enthusiasm for politics, she was a part of the crowds that protested for the Lokpal Bill in 2011. The event left an indelible inspiration on her, and further conversations and debates about the movement culminated into this novel. She can be reached at

Preorder the book here


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pu. La. Deshpande : Punekar

Disclaimer: This is a translation of  the Punekar part of the essay, 'Mumbaikar, Punekar and Nagpurkar' by Gaurav Sabnis. This essay was originally written by the celebrated Marathi author Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, popularly known as PuLa.

Here is the link to the original post. Kudos to the author for the translation. I love it!

Ok, so now... do you want to become a Punekar? Go ahead. We have no objections. But our advice is... think again. Do you really want to? OK, if you insist then your preparation needs to be thorough. And once you are fully prepared, then being a Punekar is as enjoyable an experience as any.

Firstly, do not nurse the notion that you are inferior to anyone in any aspect of life. You are not. You are a superior being. Secondly, learn to express dissent on every issue possible. I mean seriously, stop thinking about minor things like who you are, how educated or uneducated you are, what your achievements are..... don't think about any of these things and just express a contradictory opinion. Whatever the topic under discussion, your opinion needs to be strongly voiced, and it has to be contrarian. Even if the topic under discussion is "How to get the American economic machine back on track", and you are just an employee of the Pune Municipal Corporation's Rat Extermination Department, don't let it stop you from holding forth.

At least once every few hours you need to cluck your tongue, shake your head and say "Pune just isn't the way it used to be." There are no age-related requirements for saying this. In Pune doddering geriatrics and school-going striplings say "Pune just isn't the way it used to be" with matching conviction. So you will get to hear this statement with comforting regularity in offices, colleges, tekdis, temples, markets and even kindergartens.

Marathi, or in general any language, exists in several forms in Pune. Public Speaking Puneri, Shopkeeper's Puneri, Domestic Puneri.... are all various dialects with little in common with each other. Let me demonstrate the difference between the language used in private conversation and the language used for public speaking, with an example.

Imagine that a Prof. Bhamburdekar is talking about a Prof. Yelkuntkar with his wife - "What nonsense! Yelkuntkar is being felicitated? Utter nonsense. Actually he should be thrashed with his own shoes. What is he being felicitated for? Translating the rigved? More like transmutating the rigved. But still he gets government grants, thousands of rupees."
Note- One of the typical ways for a Punekar to vent his anger about someone else is to rant about the money he is making.
"Yes, you fool! Live it up! Embezzle that money! Live the big life! Eat banana pudding and peas curry everyday!"
The most superlative form of living the big life for a Punekar stops at thse humble heights - eating banana pudding and peas curry everyday.

Now let me show you the transformation of this sample of private Puneri language into public Puneri language. Imagine, the same Prof. Bhamburdekar at the felicitation, giving a speech about Prof. Yelkuntkar.

"Felicitating Guruvarya Prof Yelkuntkar is like felicitating in person the Sun God of Scholarliness. Friends, today's date will be carved with gold in the annals of Pune's cultural history. This great teacher of mine.... I mean I have always considered him my teacher.... I am not sure if he considers me his student..."
At this point the audience laughs a little. According to Puneri Public Speaking rules, if you don't make the audience laugh after your third sentence, it is counted as a foul. So all aspiring Punekars preparing for the daunting task should keep this in mind.
"Now of course, in a way I am his student. Because when he was a teacher in the municipality schools, I was his student in Class 1"
See how cleverly he slipped in the information that Prof. Yelkuntkar was once just a school teacher in a rundown municipality school.
"His father was an employee of the nutritional department in the palace of the Sardar Panchapatlikar"
Another masterstroke.... the good professor's father was just a cook!
"Having spent his childhood in extreme poverty, Professor must be feeling great contentment living in his spacious bungalow in Aranyeshwar Colony"
i.e notice how he's embezzled all this money under the garb of education.
"Prof Yelkuntkar and our Honourable Education Minister have been friends right from their school days"
i.e now you know why he gets all those government grants he doesn't deserve.

So you see, unless you are Marc Antony, you will have to prepare a lot before your public speaking skills can match up to Puneri standards.

Now when it comes to Puneri language to be used in day to day life, the standards are pretty stringent too. Let me illustrate with another example. All over the world, the convention is that when you answer the phone it should be with a polite "Hello?". Not in Pune.

In Pune when you answer the phone, your voice must take on that natural irritable brusqueness that descends when someone wakes you up from an afternoon nap, and you must yell "WHO'S THIS??". It helps to pretend that it costs you money not just to make a call, but also to receive a call.
Now if the caller responds with "Err...could you please get Mr. Gokhale to the phone?", then his non-Punekar status will be blindingly obvious even to a child. A true Punekar will respond testily "CALL GOKHALE TO THE PHONE".



To be a true Punekar, you have to have a burning pride for something. Not just normal pride. Normal pride can be felt by anyone. It has to be fierce burning pride. It is not necessary to feel this pride just about major things like the life of Shivaji or Tilak. It could be something as flippant as the rank of your lane's Ganpati statue during the Ganpati immersion procession or even peanuts from the rural regions of Pune district. But no matter how flippant the issue is, the pride must be fierce and burning.

This burning pride is very helpful when you have to make dissenting arguments. So then, on the day of Tilak's Death Anniversary, you could tap into burning pride for Gopal Ganesh Agarkar. On the day of a cricket test match, you could tap into burning pride for kabaddi.

Expressing your dissent merely in private conversations is not enough to get you the Punekar tag. You need to frequently write in your dissenting opinion to the 'Letters to the editor' column. It does not even have to make sense. For instance, this letter appeared in one of Pune's leading newspapers a few years back -

This year the monsoons have been particularly fierce. The roads are in a horrid condition and crops have been washed out. May I ask the good people at the Meterological Department, who draw their fat salaries from our taxes, what they are doing to stop this deluge?"

Dissent is of primary importance. Logic is secondary.

Now another art you need to perfect, and that too in a specialised Puneri way, is driving a bike. Just sitting on a bike and going all around town on it does not qualify you as a bike rider in Pune. The verb "driving" when it comes to bikes in Pune, is used in the same sense as "driving an axe into a block of wood" or "driving hordes towards revolution".

A bike in Pune is viewed, not as a means of transport, but something to sit on when you meet for chit-chat with a group of friends in the middle of the road. It really helps in training new traffic policemen. It also helps in making access to any building virtually impossible for pesky salesmen. Managing to cluster bikes together to construct such a barricade is as crucial as being able to extricate your own bike from the cluster without toppling others.

Bikes should not be driven alone in Pune. There should be at keast 3 bikes together going parallel to each other in the middle of the road, at a leisurely speed while talking to each other. Your eyes should not be on the road, but on the walking-and-talking attractive scenery on the road. Having unnecessary accoutrements like horns, mirrors, lights, indicators is a sign of cowardice on the streets of Pune.

In this way, as you are crossing various levels in the game "How to be a Punekar", you should also parallely keep up efforts to beome an office bearer in some social or cultural organisation or a Rotary Club. Holding a hollow post in a useless organisation is central to the completeness of the Punekar's existence.

It is also necessary to attend as many lectures, talks and seminars as possible on topics as diverse and vacuous as "Bajirao the Second's Handwriting" or "The Fungus on Bajra crop". And after the lecture, it is imperative to catch hold of the speaker, and in full view of at least half a dozen people say to him with an earnest expression on your face "I would like to discuss this topic in more depth with you some time."

All this preparation should be enough to make you a normal Punekar. But if you want to operate a shop in Pune, you need more lessons. You especially need lessons on language. Only then will you be able to heap maximum insults on your customer in minimum possible words. Because in Pune, the verb "operating" a shop is used in the same sense as "operating a bull dozer" or "operating a machine gun". The most negligible entity in a shop in Pune, is the customer.

A shop operated in this way can realistically make money only for 7-8 years until all the customers desert it. Once that happens, you can sell your shop to a Sindhi or a Marwari. The price of land must have appreciated enough to get you a hefty bank balance to last you for the remainder of your life. And you are free to conduct seminars and panel discussions on the topic "Why are Maharashtrians unsuccessful in business?" in the Tilak Smarak Mandir.

Summing it up, to become a Punekar, every action of yours should be aimed at ensuring a felicitation ceremony for you some years down the line.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Midnight's children by Salman Rushdie

After a first disappointing read, I set my sights on Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie.

What can I say? I was rendered speechless by this stunning novel. The characters leapt out of the pages - these are people I know, people I have seen and those I have heard about.

Saleem Sinai, the protagonist is one of the midnight's children... Born on the stroke of midnight on 15th of August 1947, his fate is entwined with that of India. He is affected by all the major events of India, and he is, indirectly and directly, responsible for many events that shape the destiny of the country. The novel spans sixty three years, starting with the grandfather of the protagonist and addresses four generations of the family.

The intricacy of the novel leaves one spellbound and Rushdie's singular writing style is just...awesome.

I will definitely be re-reading this novel in the future, dwelling on the characters and the events.

It makes for a wonderful, wonderful read.

What Young India Wants - Chetan Bhagat

I launched off my reading list for this year with What young India wants by Chetan Bhagat.
I led me to the conclusion that India, and Chetan Bhagat both have no idea of what they want.
Oh no, I am not criticising the book. It was lucid, had easy language but had none of the perspicuity of thought or the depth that other tomes, like The Argumentative Indian (Amartya Sen)  or We, the People (Nani Palkhivala) possess.

I do not dislike Chetan Bhagat. Indeed I do not. His books have compelling stories that seem to resonate with the youth. Last year, I was enrolled in an introductory program to the UPSC in one of the coaching institutes in Pune. We were asked to discuss our favourite works of literature and to my horror, half the people had a Chetan Bhagat book as their favourite novel. Makes me wonder if the novel, as a genre has become so stilted, stagnant that the young people read only the literature that has the emotional depth of a rainwater puddle. These books are windows to the lives of the educated, fast-living, fast-loving middle classes in urban India. But they are in no way, promoters of 'reading habits'. I have read all Bhagat books. His writing has been steadily attaining maturity, which is a very good sign indeed, because it indirectly reflects the reading maturity of the class described above.

But all things said and done, Chetan Bhagat has no business writing non-fiction. No siree!

His reactions are spontaneous and instantaneous. Hence they lack the thoughtfulness that makes up good non-fiction.

Commentary on life in India is easy. India is a land of critics. Almost everyone in our nation has been raised to have an opinion, perhaps due to the long history of prejudice we share, and every single person is a self-proclaimed critic. What separates the true critics from the masses is the research that goes into the formation of their verdict. This is where Chetan Bhagat comes up short.
He highlights the problems in the Indian society - and as we know, there is no dearth of them! But he fails to provide conclusive, solid solutions to any of them.

But anyway, my question is that who went and made Chetan Bhagat the spokesperson for Indian youth? That is probably a no brainer, because as I said, everyone in India is a self proclaimed critic.

What young India wants can be a light afternoon read. But do not expect it to be an akashwani.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Arbhaat Short Film Club - 2nd screening

Though there have been only two screenings, I have come to love the ASFC. I love the short, snazzy films that keep me hooked, provoke me and challenge me.

We watched many films this time (2nd may), but these are the ones that appealed to me the most:

Iran, 2012
Director: Omid Abdollahi
Length: 18:30 min
Summary: The aged optometrist keeps his shop open every day, hoping for his last customer to come and pick up their spectacles.

There is a subtle irony in this film, that runs through it's entire length. The optometrist wants to close his shop because of his weak eyesight. He opens the shop every day, waters a lone plant on a stool, whiles time away, sends away potential customer and generally, spends his time waiting. He then embarks on a journey of sorts, to find the woman who had ordered the spectacles. In a twist, he finds her at a hospital, where she has gone blind. He returns home, to his beautiful oasis of flowers and plants on the terrace. The simplistic plot is highlighted by the beautiful use of light, the stills and waht not.

I confess that I do not know much of film-making. I understand the techniques even less.

But the stories...I understand them, and I like to think that they understand me.

Printed Rainbow
India, 2006
Director: Gitanjali Rao
Length: 15 min
Summary: The story of a lonely old woman who escapes into the fantastical world of matchbox covers.

What a beautiful film!

I simply loved it. There cannot be enough words to describe what I felt about this movie. The old woman resonated within me, and I could understand her escapism - indeed, I longed for it myself. I was held spellbound, yearning to know what new adventures she embarked on, what people she met, what sights she saw. The end was excellent and truly deep. I lost my grandmother a few months ago, so the movie felt extra-special. Because in the round, open face of the woman, I saw my aaji.

I am looking forward to the next screening. The only complaint that I have is that there is no forum for the people to interact after the screening. An online group, on FB perhaps, would serve well. What would be the use of watching the movies if not dissecting them afterwards and relishing them all over again?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Reading list: 2013

The exams are over and done with, and now is the time to read!

Seriously, summer for me means long, lazy afternoons spent lying on the cool floor of my room, with the curtains drawn and the fan squeaking above me.

So here is my reading list for this vacations (depending on the availability of books) and for the rest of the year:

1. The train to Pakistan - Khushwant Singh

2. Millennium series: The girl with the dragon tattoo - Stieg Larsson

3. Millennium series: The girl who played with fire - Stieg Larsson

4. Millennium series: The girl who kicked the hornets' nest - Stieg Larsson

5. The catcher in the rye - J.D. Salinger

6. Patriots and Partisans - Ramchandra Guha

7. Makers of Modern India - Ramchandra Guha

8. What young India wants - Chetan Bhagat

9. Glimpses of world history - Jawaharlal Nehru

10. Narcopolis - Jeet Thayil

11. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

12. Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie

13. Those pricey Thakur girls - Anuja Chauhan

14. Battle for Bittora- Anuja Chauhan

15. One hundred years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez

16. Love in the time of cholera - Gabriel García Márquez

17. Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh

18. River of Smoke - Amitav Ghosh

19. Great expectations - Charles Dickens (re-read)

20. The strange case of Billy Biswas - Arun Joshi

21. The apprentice - Arun Joshi

22. Wuthering heights - Emily Brontë (re-read)

23. Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë

24. The brothers Karmazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

25. The Hit - David Baldacci

26. Home and the world - Rabindranath Tagore

27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -  Douglas Adams

28. The trial, Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka

29. The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera

30. Les Misérables - Victor Hugo

31. A passage to India - E. M. Foster

32. The room with a view - E. M. Foster

33. Middlemarch - George Elliot 

And that's that!  Of course, there are a lot of romance novels too...