Rediscovering Shailendra

One treasure of the Internet is the RMIM Usenet group and its more user-friendly compiled archive. One of my favourite pastimes over the years has been to open random articles from the archive, read about the songs there while making a playlist of the songs discussed in the thread. It’s one thing to listen to these songs. But the additional notes posted by the knowledgeable RMIM community along with the painstakingly compiled lyrics base of Giitaayan and create a totally different engagement.

Recovering from an illness at home, with lots of time to spare, I went back to the archive. I found this 1997 article by Amla Mazumder, daughter of lyricist Shailendra. Ms Mazumder writes a touching tribute of her father and presents the ideas and world views that went into many of Shailendra’s songs. She closes the article with a list of 11 songs – these are songs of Shailendra which Shailendra considered his favourites.

It is a remarkable list. When a writer (or any artist for that matter) picks his favourites from his own works, the list in a way showcases what the writer really wants to say to the world. They represent his view of the world and the writer feels these works communicate them better than any other. The writer finds himself in his true form in these selections.

I immediately made a playlist of this and spent a whole day listening to them. It has triggered many thoughts which I am putting down here below.

First, here are the 11 songs in chronological order

  1. Awara hoon (Mukesh, Awara, 1951, Shankar Jaikishen)
  2. Mera Joota Hai Japani (Mukesh, Shree 420, 1953, Shankar Jaikishen)
  3. Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke (Manna Dey & Lata Mangeshkar, Do Bigha Zameen, 1953, Salil Chowdhury)
  4. Sab Kuch Seekha Humne (Mukesh, Anari, 1959, Shankar Jaikishen)
  5. Mat Ro Maata (Manna Dey, Bandini, 1963, SD Burman)
  6. Ab Ke Baras Bhaiya Bhejon (Asha Bhonsle, Bandini, 1963, SD Burman)
  7. Koi Lautade Mere Beetein Huen Din (Kishore Kumar, Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein, 1964, Kishore Kumar)
  8. Jin Raaton Ki Bhor Nahin Hai (Kishore Kumar, Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein, 1964, Kishore Kumar)
  9. Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hain (Lata Mangeshkar, Guide, 1965, SD Burman)
  10. Sajanwa Bairi (Mukesh, Teesri Kasam, 1966, Shankar Jaikishen)
  11. Sajanre Jhooth Mat Bolo (Mukesh, Teesri Kasam, 1966, Shankar Jaikishen)

Here is a YouTube playlist that I have made. If you want to listen to the songs, then I can suggest something. Pour yourself a nice shot of your favourite drink, settle into your recliner, dim the lights, quieten down everything and then press play. You don’t need to see the visuals (though there is some breathtaking black and white camerawork  and scene design by the masters), just engage with the songs word by word.

Now, to put down a few words that have been evoked by this list.


Language of the commoner

One of the first things that one notices is the simplicity of language. All songs form a vocabulary that a common person on the street can use. To some extent, the nature of the characters for whom these songs were written plays a part in the construction of the vocabulary. There’s a tramp, there are paddy farmers, women convicts and bullock cart drivers. Of course, there are a couple of urban, sophisticated characters like an engineer, a dancer and an army officer. But even for them, Shailendra keeps it simple. One can contrast this with “labz” play that other writers indulge in – Gulzar with his sargoshians and satrangis, for example. If you follow some of better modern songwriters, people like Irshad Kamil, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Swanand Kirkire,etc, you’ll see their songs dripping with some really sophisticated, esoteric words – khanabdoshiyan, sukun ka zazira, chand ki firaaq, etc.

One of SD Burman’s personal quality control habits was to test his tunes with his servants and various tradespeople like the laundry man, the security guard, etc. If he found them catching on and humming the tune repeatedly, he knew he had a winner. All his legendary folkish sounding tunes went through that QC. It appears Shailendra might have, mentally if not actually, done the same – test his lines with common people.

One example is the villager calling out to Shambhu as he walks to the city looking for a job. In order to reclaim his land, Shambhu has to go, his situation demands it but the villager knows this is a point of no return. So he says,

“Apni kahani chhod ja
Kuch to nishani chhod ja
Kaun Kahe is or tu phir aaye na aaye

Just two big words of three syllables. Every other word is a single or at most two syllables long. Easy on the tongue, easy to remember, easy to hum. You probably use these words everyday when chatting with friends over coffee. And yet such depth. Contrast with a similarly placed song, Kabira by Amitabh Bhattacharya

Ae Kabira maan ja, ae fakira maan ja
Aaja tujhko pukare teri parchhaiyya
Ae Kabira maan ja, ae fakira maan ja
Kaisa tu hai nirmohi, kaisa harjaaia

Lovely writing, meant for an urban, elite character – the effort of constructing sentences using inherently deep meaning words like fakira or nirmohi is praiseworthy. But it enhances, in a way, the charm of how Shailendra, in simple words, describes the same emotion of seeing someone close leave and go away.

Social themes – migration, alienation, boundaries

Let’s look at some of the themes covered in these songs. How do they convey Shailendra’s view of society? As Ms Mazumder mentions in her article, there’s a lot of Shailendra in these songs, even if they explicitly refer to the on-screen characters.

If you start with Awara, the first big idea is one of social alienation – the alienation that a poor orphan feels in modern urban society.

Sunsaan nagar, anjaan nagar ka pyaara hun
Awaara Hun

There is a metropolis outside but for the individual, he is as good as living in “Empty Ville”. Shailendra considered himself an orphan after his mother’s death. When he moved to Bombay for work, he found himself in a strange land. All that comes out in these lines. There is a story that when Raj Kapoor first met Shailendra (he heard a poem of Shailendra and wanted to buy it for his film), he asked him to say something about himself. Shailendra replied, awara hun, is gardish mein aasman ka tara hun. RK was floored.

Then we come to the the emotions and trauma of migration. In the 1950s, in newly independent India, people had new hope. This hope drew them to the cities where they would find new careers as engineers, craftsmen, scientists, etc. Shree 420 begins with this hope. A young man is off looking for new opportunities. But Shailendra has a twist.

Naadaan hai jo baith kinaare
Puuchhen raah vatan ki
Chalana jivan ki kahaani,
Rukanaa maut ki nishani

These lines can be read in two ways (at least I am reading them in two ways). One, it’s a good, philosophical rule of life to keep moving. Stagnation is death. The other way is a sly bit of trolling by Shailendra, if I may say so. The country is moving forward and everyone needs to catch up. If you don’t, it’s death. These lines raise questions on the inclusiveness of growth and change. People take their time to sense the new ideas and make their decisions to join the movement. However, in reality, there is always some coercion, some collateral damage of  any change. One can say that the need to migrate as a consequence of progress is an unfortunate but real phenomenon.

But the overall mood in Mera Joota Hai Japani is positive and optimistic and let’s keep it that way for now. For real, serious stuff, we need to see the next one, Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke.

One of Shailendra’s greatest abilities was to capture the essence of the film or the story in the song, and specifically in one or two lines.

This song does that. Do Bigha Zameen as a film describes how a landed family who have their goals and plans worked out and are steadily working their way towards them end up becoming landless roadside dwellers in the city with no hope of anything. It is the story of migration, of the impact of urbanisation on rural families, treating them, making them homeless nomads. About this, Shailendra writes

Dharti kahe pukaar ke,
Beej bichhaa le pyaar ke
mausam bitaa jaay, mausam bitaa jaay

Shailendra tells the migrant that to plant some roots else there may be no return. He will be left with nothing. And what is it that is really lost. It’s the social goods – the community, the collective love and support from everyone during harvesting, festivals, or anything that happens in the village. The seeds of love that you sow in a place, the migrant will miss that. He has to now start all over again in the city.

Tilt then, the poet gives the migrant a tip to maintain his humour.

Nila ambar muskaaye,
Har saans taraane gaaye
Haay tera dil kyon murjhaye

Man ki banshi pe
Tu bhi koi dhun bajaa le bhaai
Tu bhi muskuraa le

Relationship Themes – separation and breakups

There are three songs which are about separation – Ab Ke Baras Bhejo, Sajanwa Bhairi, Sab Kuch Seekha. Each one highlights a different cause of separation

In Ab Ke Baras Bhejo, a woman is serving her time in jail. She prays for someone from home to come and see her. She recalls the joys of the monsoon and the greenery and energy that came with the rain winds. It’s interesting that the lady keeps mentioning her “baabul”. She is in jail and euphemistically, a jail is often called a “sasural”. As a prisoner, she has been separated from her family and they seem to have abandoned her.

Baabul ki main tere naazon ki paali
Phir kyon huii main paraaii
Bite re jag koii chithiyaa na paati
Na koii naihar se aaye, re
Ab ke baras bhej bhiyako baabul

The stigma of being a convict has broken all relations.

Then we come to separation triggered by deceit and betrayal inAnari. Here, we see some very personal anguish infused in the words

duniyaa ne kitanaa samajhaayaa
kaun hai apanaa kaun paraayaa
phir bhii dil kii choT chhupaa kar
hamane aapakaa dil bahalaayaa

Shailendra had many incidents of people not keeping their commitments – film directors, actors, music directors. These include those who were supposedly very close to him and had great regard for him. The above lines bring out some of that angst.

The last of the separation songs deals with marital separation. The husband (Sajanwa) has become a stranger

Jaae base parades balamavaa sautan ke bharamaae
Naa sandes naa koI khabariyaa, rut aae rut jaae
Naa koi is paar hamaara
Naa koI us paar

The lines are quite explicit and clear.

Personal Themes – Nostalgia, loneliness and a second chance

There are two songs from Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein. Shailendra was Kishore Kumar’s favourite by far and he got some absolute gems as songs. If Pyaasa was Sahir expressing himself, DGKCM is Shailendra expressing himself in the voice of Kishore. Koi Lautade Mere Beetein Huen Din is very clearly about the old days. Again, it touches on changes in people’s lives and the havoc it causes.

Main akelaa to na tha, the mere satha\i kai
Ek aandhi si uthii, jo bhi tha leke gai
Aaj main dhundhun kahaan, kho gaye jaane kidhar

The nature of the storm is part of the film. But there may be some autobiographical element in here. Shailendra lost his mother early and that had long lasting effect on him. His daughter tells us that Shailendra brought out that angst in many of his songs. The descriptions of loneliness and feeling of hopelessness caused by such events came from his own personal life. The other song from DGKCM is even more depressing.

Raat ke taaron tum hii bataao
Meri vo manzil hai kahaan
Paagal banakar jisake liye main
Kho baithaa hun dono jahaan

Utter hopelessness. When someone loses all purpose.

We are talking 1960s now when Shailendra’s health has worsened, physically and mentally. He died in 1966. In these last years, he seemed to have decided on his second life. The last three songs are all about journeys and possible rebirth.

The first one is a death row convict being led to the gallows. It’s a fait accompli but the convict says he is only getting liberated.

Ho hanskar mujhako aaj vidaa kar
Janam safal ho meraa
Rotaa jag me.n aayaa
Hansataa chalaa ye baalak teraa
Mat ro maataa laal tere bahutere
Mat ro

Ho kal main nahin rahugaa lekin
Jab hogaa andhiyaaraa
Taaron men tuu dekhegii
Hansataa ek nayaa sitaaraa
Mat ro maataa laal tere bahutere
Mat ro

Then there is Heeraman, the bullock cart driver, making what appears to be a smuggling trip but is unaware of it. To further highlight the irony, he is singing

Tumhaare mahal chaubaare, yahii.n rah jaae.nge saare
akad kis baat ki pyaare
akad kis baat ki pyaare,
ye sar phir bhi jhukaanaa hai

Incidentally, the mukdha of this song comes from the original story i.e. it’s written by Phaniswarnath Renu. Shailendra took the two lines from Renu and added the rest. The certainty of mortality is presented thus and it puts a frame on the crime that’s happening on the screen.

Then there’s Rosie. She had tried to commit suicide but was saved. Now she is looking forward for a new life, a new career. Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna is probably, in my view, the only positive, optimistic song in the list, relatively of course.

Infinite Sadness

10 out of the 11 songs convey different forms of sadness. This is what Shailendra picks as his favourite. He has written lots of fun songs, mind you. But he seems to prefer these. In the words of his daughter,

“For me   there is  a Shailendra song   for  any emotion,   any situation, from birth to death, such  was his versatility. Millions of listeners feel this way about his work.”

Yet  the spectre  of death  always haunted him.   He   was obsessed by death. There was no fear involved, but a kind of helplessness drew him towards it.”


I shall close this article with a song which I thought should have been in the list. Here is the final song of Bandini where he explains the life story of Nutan’s character

“Main bandini piya ki,
main sangini hoon saajan ki”



The Golden Gaans of Bappi Lahiri

Back in the 1980s when the primary sources of entertainment were Vividh Bharati and Doordarshan’s Chitrahaar, it was quite typical to wake up in the morning to neighbourhood radios playing the latest Hindi film music interspersed with advertisements and the soothing announcements of Ameen Sayani et al. The radio and TV announcers would mention the credits diligently – singer, lyricist and music director. In the latter case, there were three names that were repeated all the time – Laxmikant Pyarelal, RD Burman and Bappi Lahiri. In some of the programs which were request based (Jhumritalaya se Sonu, Monu, Deepak aur saathi farmayish karte hain…), RD Burman and Bappi Lahiri generally got more mentions. It is this upbringing, if I may say, that leads me to pick my favourite music directors of all time – RD and Bappida.

In the case of the former, there is a lot of literature by his legion of fans. Bappida always seemed to get subaltern treatment from so-called critics who were more influenced by his appearance, inarticulateness and general demeanour. Not that it matters, but those who have heard Bappida beyond the overplayed disco songs will know that he was a much bigger talent than otherwise perceived. In this post, I will list 10 songs which I don’t think most people would have heard of, let alone heard. Once you hear these songs, we can then talk.

Song #10: Jalta Hai Jiya Mera, Zakhmee (1975)

The film, according to reports, did relatively well. 1975 was the year of Deewar and Sholay, so the word “relatively” is the keyword. Produced by Tahir Hussain, brother of Nasir Hussain and father of Aamir Khan, the movie was a typical multi-starrer convoluted story based film. But like all Nasir Hussain films, this film had good music – by Bappi Lahiri. This was his first major hit score.

In the 1980s, Bappi Lahiri scored a number of films of Jeetendra which involved, what people like to call, “raunchy” song sequences. These sequences involved Jeetendra cavorting with the likes of either Sridevi or Jayaprada singing songs with “suggestive” lyrics. But, back in 1975, in his only third year of his career, he did this song featuring Rakesh Roshan and Reena Roy.

Songs #9: Main Deewani Radha Tumhari, Shikshaa (1979)

A young man, with a privileged upbringing, drives around showing off his fancy wheels. He runs over someone killing that person. When the police come to arrest him at home, his privileged surroundings intervene and the driver steps up to take the cosh. The driver goes to jail and the young man is back on the road. This does sound familiar. And very recent too. Writer M Balaiah and director S Ramanathan might well be pre-cogs when they weaved this story into their 1979 film Shikshaa. Raj Kiran plays the young man. The film did moderately in the matinee shows and faded away. With films like Mr Natwarlal and Kaala Patthar anchored by the Big B doing the rounds, this film had no chance. But we may remember this film for two songs.

It was always difficult for any singer, especially female, to break into Hindi playback singing in 1950s and 1960s when Lata Mangeshkar was around. The occasional song offered by Hemant Kumar and Salil Chowdhury notwithstanding, Arati Mukherjee would be a less familiar name for most listeners. Though popular in Bengali cinema sharing space with Sandhya Mukherjee for the coveted honour of doing playback for Suchitra Sen, Arati Mukherjee found fame in 1982 when she won the Filmfare and National Award for Do Naina Ek Kahani in Masoom. Here, she is singing this lovely Gita Govinda style song (poetry where Radha sings of her love for Krishna).

Song #7 & #8: Humse Tum Mile & Zid Na Karo, Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979)

This Mahesh Bhatt film starring Vinod Khanna was a reasonable hit but is notable for a more than significant role for Helen which got her a Filmfare award for best supporting actress. An interesting casting choice was to have Danny Dengzonpa as the son of Helen, suggesting some realistic film making techniques rather than pandering to box office formula on casting. There are two very interesting songs – a gem by Yesudas (I could not find the original film scene featuring the song. There is a Lata Mangeshkar version also).

The lyrics are by Farukh Kaiser, a lyricist who started song writing in the 1950s itself but his best work were in the late 1970s-1980s). Again, we see a lot of poetry in the songs. The second song from this film that I will direct you to is performed by Danny Denzongpa and Chandrani Mukherjee. Danny was a very competent singer with a unique voice.

Song #5 & #6:  Aawaz Di Hai & Kisi Nazar Se, Aitbaar (1985)

Mukul Anand had a brief but extremely exciting 12-15 year film making career. He started with the remake of the 1962 Gregory Peck film Cape FearKanoon Kya Karega in 1984. One year later, he took a Hitchcock classic Dial M For Murder and made a very competent remake – Aitbaar. Dimple Kapadia, Raj Babbar and Suresh Oberoi come together in this thriller and Raj Babbar as the insidious husband puts in a fine performance. The trio were however topped by Danny Denzongpa as a coughing Inspector Barua providing the denouement

Suresh Oberoi plays a ghazal singer and Bappi Lahiri produced a couple of ghazals for the film. Written by Hasan Kamaal, these two songs show the range that Bappi Lahiri was capable of. 1985 was bang in the middle of the decade and Disco Dancer, Sharaabi, Namak Halaal, etc had already made Bappi the leading contender in discos, pubs and parties everywhere. Here he was suddenly breaking the trend and producing these two gems.

Both the songs are duets featuring Bhupinder and Asha Bhonsle. I must say that Bhupinder’s voice does not quite cast well with Suresh Oberoi’s hamming. It may even be distracting. I suggest you listen to the audio and forget about the hamming.

One of the features of Bappi Lahiri’s songs is the fine poetry in his songs. While they cannot rival the greats like Shailendra, Sahir and Majrooh, Bappi Lahiri had the likes of Gauhar Kanpuri, Anjaan and Hasan Kamaal pen some fine words.

This stanza from one of the songs captures relationship between the three main characters, from the point of view of the woman. It also brings out the essence of the film’s story to follow.

Kabse khadi thi baahein pasaare
Is dil ki tanhaaiyaan
Duniyaa se kah do na ham ko pukaare
Ham kho gaye hain yahaan

Song #4: Pyaar Chahiye, Manokamna (1979)

Can we have a list of Bappida songs without Bappida singing? For that we pick a film starring Raj Kiran and Kalpana Iyer. I am not too sure anyone saw this film. I can’t find any review of this film online. This particular song, with lyrics by Indeevar, is filmed along Juhu Beach.

Song #3: Jaana Kahan Hai, Chalte Chalte (1975)

Incidentally, there are a whole lot of Bappi songs filmed on beaches. Like this one from Chalte Chalte. Vijay Anand moves in front of the camera and tries to work his elder brother’s charms.

Song #2: Zindagi Hai Zindagi, Shart (1986)

Ketan Anand, song of Chetan Anand, was a long time fan of Bappi Lahiri and had him as a music director in many films. Shart starring Naseerudding Shah, Shabana Azmi and Kanwalijit is an interesting film inspired by the Jack The Ripper story. Yesudas gives voice to this song.

Song #1: Mana Ho Tum, Toote Khilone (1978)

It is quite revealing to see the number of songs that Yesudas has sung for Bappi Lahiri. One normally associates the great singer with Salil Chowdhury or Ravindra Jain. I have already played two Yesudas songs earlier. Here is by far the best song from the duo. The film, directed by Ketan Anand, is notable for featuring Shekhar Kapur in the lead role. Not much of an actor, thankfully he was better off as a director.

And just to round it off, here is Sonu Nigam recreating Yesudas’ song.





Ganesh Visarjan 2013

Religious events are good for business. Take this family. Everyone is putting in their last breadth to stock up on balloons to sell on Visarjan Day. I saw them when I was walking towards Shivaji Park taking photos of the city. When I returned and walked past this spot, they were done. All balloons sold.

Ganesh Visarjan Mumbai 2013

18th September 2013, the 10th day of the annual Ganesh festival, like all parts of the city, Dadar in central Mumbai, was the scene of what I would call the Mardi Gras of Bombay.

Ganesh Visarjan Mumbai 2013

It’s an event. You can shut your ears and moan about it. Or like these college kids, go out there and volunteer to keep order. Or do some filming.

Ganesh Visarjan Mumbai 2013

Ganesh Visarjan Mumbai 2013


Ganesh Visarjan Mumbai 2013

Amitava Ghosh on the “tamasha” literary festivals

A frequently heard argument in favour of book festivals is that they provide a venue for writers to meet the reading public. Although appealing, this argument is based on a flawed premise in that it assumes that attendance is equivalent to approbation.

This, however, according to Ghosh, is not really worth it.

Through the last century, the relationship between readers and writers was largely impersonal. The reader related in the first instance to a book, not to its writer; and writers, for their part, did not confront their audience directly in the manner of musicians, singers, actors and so on. This was, I think, one of the reasons why writers were able to take greater risks in hurling defiance at society at large.

The situation has changed dramatically in recent years. The internet, as I have good reason to know, has made it possible to subject writers to great pressure through mass-mailing campaigns. Face-to-face encounters add yet another dimension to this: to be called upon constantly to provide answers is inevitably to become answerable. If this process continues unchecked, its impact on the freedom of thought and expression may be greater than any explicit policy of repression.

The old, impersonal relationship was, in other words, also a form of protection, a first line of defence, not merely within public spaces but also within the writer’s own head.

Makes sense.

Despite the deployment of enormous resources neither Denmark nor Holland were able to prevent attacks upon artists under threat; in the US a woman who put up a website that was offensive to a religious group was quickly forced to go underground. These countries are heavily and efficiently policed: what are the chances that a country like India would be able to provide effective protection?

Whether the threats to the Jaipur festival were invented or real I am in no position to judge. But one has only to open a newspaper to know that certain situations in India are inherently combustible. What then would it have taken to ensure order in Jaipur and Kolkata? One battalion? Two? Or should festivals now invest in creating private security forces in the manner of mining companies? And what would this say about the relationship between writers and the public?

Pinot Noir “the noble grape” posts this report on an interesting research: records of pinot noir harvests from the 14th century are mapped to the climate of Western Europe. It suggests a deep relationship between the temperatures, especially the sea surface temperatures which are influenced by various currents and the harvest of the grape.

According to Tourre, this year the high spring temperatures and combination of July rainfall and August sunshine helped the grapes mature to excellent quality. Tourre suggested in his presentation that people should buy a bottle of 2011 pinot noir to enjoy in 10-15 years from now.

The recognition of this pattern could become influential to area wine producers going forward.

To know more on pinot noir, I think Paul Giamatti is the right person to turn to.



Owls, lions and salmon

Apart from the ball, even owls get kicked around in the football matches. Moreno, the footballer who committed the deed, is getting death threats.

Meanwhile, Moreno says he had been threatened since the incident. “There have been all kinds of things … on the telephone, everything,” he declared in a television interview. “It wasn’t my intention to hurt the animal. It’s very difficult for me and my family who are in Panama and are afraid about all this.”

This is a plot for an excellent B-grade horror film – The Hooting Nightmare. Footballer kicks owl to death. The spirit of owl comes back hovering above the footballer. Every time he tries to kick the ball, the ghostly owl goes hoot in his ear. The footballer misses his kick. He loses his spot in the team. Enter the shaman who will find out an ancient ritual that requires the footballer to be kicked by 25 owls. What happens next we need to see.

Meanwhile the Great American Hunter is on a mission against African lions.

Between 1999 and 2008, 64% of the 5,663 lions that were killed in the African wild for sport ended up being shipped to America, it said. It also said the numbers had risen sharply in those 10 years, with more than twice as many lions taken as trophies by US hunters in 2008 than in 1999. In addition to personal trophies, Americans are also the world’s biggest buyers of lion carcasses and body parts, including claws, skulls, bones and penises. In the same years, the US imported 63% of the 2,715 lion specimens put up for sale.

Of course, there is a flip side to hunting.

“If you remove hunting, the very real risk is that you force African governments to generate revenue from that land and the obvious thing is cattle and crops which just wipe out habitats,” said Hunter.

So hunter / gatherer vs agriculture / pasture.

Meanwhile, back in India, avoid salmon, especially the much hyped Norwegian Salmon. I saw it on the menu at a place the other day – Rs. 600 bucks for some handful of shavings. Ostensibly writing about the budget, Vikram Doctor however makes an important recommendation which may of more consequence than Pranab babu’s. He says that the smoked salmon available in restaurants in India are sick.

Nearly all this salmon is farmed and while it is seen as a premium product here in India, in the West it is not. Fish farmed in big sea cages live in utterly unnatural conditions for the wide sea-roaming salmon; as a result they are often sick, and for that reason are pumped with antibiotics. But perhaps the biggest problem with farmed salmon is that because it’s easily available and can be sold with a premium tag, it stops Indian chefs from using more of the abundant and excellent range of fish caught on our shores. I would love to see more local fish on restaurant menus, but increasingly it’s all salmon or Chilean seabass (overfished).

Now for lunch.

Don’t read Amar Chitra Katha

If you are in the market looking for comic books, here are some recommendations.

Ambarish Diwanji in DNA tells us why:

To put it bluntly, ACK should rank among the most politically incorrect comic books available today.

ACK comic books are casteist, racist, and not very subtly propagate Hindu superiority over other religions (particularly Islam) and Brahmin superiority over other castes.

Then there is Nandini Chandra. 12 years of research for her M.Phil dissertation, she writes The Classic Popular.

The book also throws light on the anti-Muslim, anti-Communist and pro-Brahministic ideologies that were apparently followed by the series along with the anti-dalit and anti-feminist ideologies. The propagation of Vaishnavism as an overarching philosophy which, was capable to absorb all the hostility unto itself and, the portrayal of Shaivism in an antagonistic light is also discussed in an interesting way given Anant Pai’s (the founder of ACK series) inalienable connection with the Vaishnav philosophy.

And like Bollywood, Chandra has a thing about the portrayal of women:

In academic Nandini Chandra’s book ‘The Classic Popular: Amar Chitra Katha, 1967-2007 (Yoda Press), she illuminates the reason for the fall of ACK in the post-liberalism 1990s, with the figure of the Muslim always a monstrous traitor as compared to the god-fearing, moralistic upright Hindu.

Women are relegated to the margins of the narrative, either to a singing siren who is a moll to the lusty villain or the dutiful wife/girlfriend to the hero who waits patiently for him to finish saving the world and then glance at her. Lower caste heroes and saints are pushed to the margins by Brahmin characters.

Do people remember Sir Richard Burton’s famous response? Just do thenga these intellectuals listed above. Go ahead and enjoy Uncle Pai’s creations And these are comics, not graphic novels, not political or religious statements.

The Invention Called Doordarshan

I have over the past couple of years reduced my television consumption significantly with just a few minutes of sports or a random movie.The soaps, the reality shows, the breaking news, etc don’t really engage me anymore. It’s just a pain on the brain.

But I do see sports. And as I see DD Sports relay first the CWG and now Asian Games, there is a sense of deja vu. Not about the sports per se or the quality of the production. But about DD’s own masala that they add around it.

For example, yesterday, this kid presenter Kanthi gushes with joy, “India have won the bronze medal, they just lost to Malaysia in the squash team event“. And then she, like a very good tourist guide, says “let’s go and catch some exciting volleyball action, Tajikistan versus Maldives in the women’s event for the 9th and 10th places“. I was hoping to catch some highlights of the Indian boxers but sadly all I got was two teams of girls, one of them fully covered head to toe in Islamic fashion, playing less than college level volleyball. (They did finally show some highlights but at 2 am at night I think. Too late for me)

For those of us who belong to a generation (These were the days before crass commercialisation became so crass that entire generations were branded by television channels) which grew up on Doordarshan and there are idiosyncrasies that all of us identify with. So such kind of presentation made with child like innocence and enthusiasm is quite well known.

I shall always be grateful for DD which through that brilliant program called “The World of Sport” every Sunday afternoon anchored by the legends like Anupam Gulati, Dr Narottam Puri, Avtar Singh Sethi and Arijit Sen introduced me to so many different sports. And this tradition continues when I was watching Wushu with a Hindi commentator giving me helpful insights about the different aspects of Wushu like how points are scored (1 point for a punch in the head / face and 2 points for kick in the head / face), different strategies, who are the world champions (includes an Iranian girl), etc. The best bit I liked was when the co-commentator asked what kind of injuries do Wushu combatants suffer (or are likely to suffer). He said, just like boxing, fighters can get hit on the head (or have their ears bitten off – depends on who they are fighting of course).

There is almost a raw innocence about the way they muddle up their stuff on DD which makes ESPN, Star Sports, etc look so loud, garish and artificial.

And I think DD News is probably the only news channel which does not have the red “Breaking News” caption on it. And the volume levels are almost like a quiet exclusive bar serving single malt and cigars.

Back to DD please.

Such a Long Journey and India

Why Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey is a must-read for the Mumbaikar (and indeed for anyone interested in post independence Indian history)

On eating beef

And a time also arrived when Gustad himself shopped no more at Crawford Market, settling instead for whatever stringy bits of goat, cow or buffalo that the door-to-door goaswalla of Khodadad Building brought. By this time, he had lost touch with Malcolm and was spared embarrassing explanations about the tenuous, tangled connection between his desertion of Crawford Market and the sadhus’ nationwide protest against cow slaughter. It was easier to remain the silent, unknown apostate of beef.

On the subject of beef and cow slaughter, in case you haven’t read it till now, here’s Vikram Doctor’s fantastic piece.

On the Marathi Manoos agitation of the 60s and 70s

One day I had to take the train around eleven o’clock. You ever did that?

You know I never take the train

It’s the time of the dabbawallas. They are supposed to use only the luggage van, but some got in the passenger compartments. Jam-packed, and what a smell of sweat. Toba, toba! I began to feel something wet on my shirt. And guess what it was. A dabbawalla. Standing over me, holding the railing. It was falling from his naked armpit: tapuck-tapuck-tapuck, his sweat. I said nicely, “Please move a little, my shirt is wetting, meherbani.” But no kothaa, as if I was not there. Then my brain really went, I shouted, “You! Are you animal or human, look what you are doing!” I got up to show him the shirt and guess what he did. Just take a guess.


Just turned and slipped into my seat! Insult to injury! What to do with such low class people? No manners, no sense, nothing. And you know who is responsible for this attitude – that bastard Shiv Sena leader who worships Hitler and Mussolini. He and his “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians” nonsense. They won’t stop till they have complete Maratha Raj.

Wait till the Marathas take over, then we will have real Gandoo Raj

On Nehru

But everyone knew that the war with China froze Jawaharlal Nehru’s heart, then broke it. He never recovered from what he perceived to be Chou-en Lai’s betrayal. The country’s beloved Panditji, everyone’s Chacha Nehru, the unflinching humanist, the great visionary, turned bitter and rancorous. From now on, he would brook no criticism, take no advice.

On bank nationalisation:

“Parsis were the kings of banking in those days. Such respect we used to get. Now the whole atmosphere only has been spoiled. Ever since that Indira nationalised the banks.”

Gustad topped up Dinshawji’s glas. “Nowhere in the world has nationalisation worked. What can you say to idiots?”

But all these quotations are the sidelights. They provide a large context. The real story is that of a Parsi community which once was a key stakeholder in the Bombay economy but is slowly seeing much of its influence and status wean away.

The women in the House of Cages peered outside to see if there was any sign of customers. To their dismay, nowadays the men preferred to listen to Peerbhoy Paanwalla and go home, rather than come inside.