Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Money often costs too much

The Big Bang ...

The scenario in my country for the last one week has left me mulling over a few questions and thus brings me to writing this post on my blog. I could not find a better title for it than a quote by noted American poet Ralph Emerson - "Money often costs too much".

Indians turned their heads a little away from internal affairs for a brief period to keep tab on who was winning the race to become the next American President when a big bang was announced by their own Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, just hours before the day - Nov 8, 2016 came to a close. Indian currency with value 500 and 1000 were no longer legal tender starting from midnight that day. Rules were tabulated for the citizen on what they could do with old 500s and 1000s at hand. New 500 Rs notes and a new denomination - Rs 2000 were set to replace them soon in market.

Prima facie, it appearedthat the government had a sharp agenda and a firm plan in place to root out corruption, eliminate black money and fake currency notes; thereby crack the whip on all wrong doers, from tax defaulters to terrorists. 

Why no new 500 Rs notes?

What started as a "wow" feeling about the demonetization announced slowly downgraded to a "Hmm .. I don't understand" when new 2000 Rs notes came into circulation but new 500 Rs notes were amiss. Even as I write this post, new 500 notes are not in circulation. This gargantuan gap from Rs 100 (the highest valid denomination from old currencies) to Rs 2000 (newly announced) could not be bridged by a simple leap of faith. In a country, where providing change for Rs 500 after a purchase from market/small shops invites complaints from vendors and leaves them scowling, introduction of even higher denomination 2000 made many mad. And its introduction into market before its less valued but more often used partner Rs 500 made matters worse. The "something is better than nothing" formula does not work for cash in hand all the time. 

             A cartoon by a friend depicting the fall out of demonetization - "Cash crunch or Compassion crunch"

Physical re calibration of ATM machines, could this have been avoided?

The whole operation of demonetization soon landed up in bitter taste when realization struck that new notes, now smaller in size were not compatible for ATM dispensation and trays in machines had to be physically replaced by workers for process correction. Any sane citizen can gauge the mammoth effort and plentiful time required for this task completion. ATM s remain shut LARGELY, even as I write this post. Citizens have no choice but to stand in serpentine queues outside banks for withdrawal of money needed for their daily chores. If ATM s were equipped to handle withdrawals with minimal delay, at least in urban and sub urban areas for many possess cards here, stress on banks and its officials would have largely reduced. This , along with timely release of new 500 s could have improved the efficacy of demonetization implementation and made the PM's brainchild a noteworthy success.

Why I fail to find sense in what the Finance Minister says?

If P Chidambaram in the role of Union Finance Minister during previous UPA regime irked me thoroughly with his rigmarole like answers interspersed with many pauses and a composed "I can never go wrong" attitude, the current Union Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley too seems no less. He foresees a cashless way of economic life unfolding soon but could do plainly nothing to put existing set up of ATM s to optimal use to ease unrest among card holding public. A commoner residing in India knows that to bring everyone from a local tea seller to ones who run small road-side eateries to use digital wallet and replace use of small value currency notes with it is a Herculean task and highly preposterous.And what makes one think that hi-tech digital stuff is the answer to all worldly problem and being error free. How can one eliminate human error when these technological inventions and innovations are created by man himself? Not to forget, a few weeks back, about 3 million debit cards were hit by a massive hack and a plethora of faulty transactions created alert . 

Everything is not digital logic 

From recent conversations with friends and acquaintances in person or over social media, I have understood it is all either black or white, no, I am not talking about currency here. 

If I raised questions on implementation of demonetization, I was quickly dismissed as a fan of a buffoon named Rahul Gandhi, an admirer of All time Anarchy Party (AAP) leader Kejriwal or a victim of media foul play and its exaggerated negative projection.

There is no middle path. I am one among those who voted Narendra Modi (or better said his party, BJP) to power and I look up to him as an able leader, a great orator and a smart administrator. His announcement on 500/1000 note ban instilled in me confidence that my decision, my vote was purposeful. But watching his plan unfold into action gives me credible doubts. Unquestionable, blind faith in an elected leader is not an essential quality of being a nationalist. 

Demonetization has created a huge wave of change in buyer-seller relations in my observation. To me, I have temporarily shifted my loyalty from local, small time vendors to supermarkets where I can swipe my debit card and imposed a restraint in buying stuff that needs me to part with small value notes, I possess few of them and for now see they are difficult to procure. 

People; most importantly, the bank officials are highly patient and extending full support to the government's move of demonetization. The commoner will begin to shed his/her skepticism and feel positive about this change only when some of his immediate discomfort is minimized at the earliest possible. A clear reflection of this change , its promise for a better future will be visible only when murky waters on the surface give way. The government can rest assured that sensible citizens of the nation meantime will neither be swayed by Rahul Gandhi standing in queue for currency exchange nor emotionally moved by Prime Minister's old mother doing the same. 

Note: The cartoon that features in this post is by my friend, posted here after due permission.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Virtual Reality

A veteran Tamil actress/comedian in one of her movies desires to eat some chicken biriyani, and true to her portrayal of being miserly in that movie, she hangs a picture of a chicken in front of her and relishes plain white rice with immense satisfaction. Virtual reality, I must say, this is. I don't know why this scene from an old movie flashed in my head as I read articles of Pokemon Go becoming a rage among youngsters and  this made me think more. 

Long gone are the times when people of a family clung together while visiting fairs and exhibitions, now there is no fear of getting lost in huge, milling crowds. The mobile phone comes to our rescue almost all the time; we dare not step out of our home without it. I would have got scolded more often for leaving my phone in silent mode than for all other mistakes summed up. Long geographical distances pose no impediment in communication with phones, chat/messaging apps, video conferencing techniques becoming popular in full blaze, we virtually stay connected all the time with loved, known and unknown ones. This definitely is a great advantage without which we cannot imagine getting strewn around across the globe. However, we become owl-like to beat the disconnect in time zones, crave for eating one meal at peace without having to answer the phone midway, earnestly hope faces do not glare at us when we leave our phones ringing inside a temple/hospital/library. We are expected to talk even when we drive, with a phone neatly tucked into our helmet; we talk hands free and look quite like a lunatic. In name of working from home, we try hard to juggle between personal and professional spheres of life having allowed them to mingle too much.  

Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms ensure we stay connected with dear ones. Admittedly, we've got complacent maintaining virtual friendship links and sharing a slice of our everyday life with others through 'likes', 'follow' and 'share'. We express our opinions like never before to run into trouble at times with some governmental and non-governmental agencies checking if we committed an act of sedition in name of free speech and expression. The Internet provides information of all kinds and suits all tastes, one does not really need a dadi maa to know ' dadi ka nuska'. However, plagiarism, piracy and breach of someone's privacy make things shoddy, that thin line which demarcates right from wrong is fast disappearing. 

While on one hand we boast about access to a million songs from different genres across all languages in the world at just a finger touch, we silently adore one who possesses a collection of old LP records, few recorded TDK cassettes and a bunch of HMV ones. We deem him/her to be a 'real' and fine connoisseur of music. 

Pages of old photo albums from trips during our childhood times show us how carefully we spent 34-36 snaps on a camera film roll on only precious shots. Now, we virtually have thousands of snaps clicked without a second thought for every single trip, all cached in sectors in hard disks or memory cards, to see them with a quick click or a swipe, we do not have time at hand. 

When my aunt showed me letters written to her by my grandfather from inside a torn envelope with postage stamp clinging to it, I could not refrain from thinking if I should take a print out of some recent emails written by my dad before I accidentally deleted them or my mail account got hacked. 

e-books and Kindle allow us to carry our bookshelves everywhere; being light weight and travel friendly, any time-anywhere access provides a big boon for book lovers. But a bibliophile will never shy away from accepting that the smell of mold from old books, towering racks stashed with many titles in shops, sight of a silverfish wriggling inside an old copy and the crackling sound of actually turning the pages give unparalleled joy. 

This 'virtually' real aspect which technology has provided us with has overtaken all realms of life. The convenience it imparts, the ease of use, a sense of appeal creates dependence. It gets menacing only when the dependence grows into an addiction. Our parents had only one idiot box named TeleVision to deal with but parenting in today's times is no less than a Herculean task with idiot box type 1 version 1, idiot box type 2 and 3 with multiple versions for every hardware/software fix/release. Many youngsters do not want to swap the comfort of playing games on a console inside defined precincts with actually sweating it out and playing real games with team mates. And, if Pokemon Go answers the sedentary aspect of computer games, it carries untold hazards with it. 

The quality of 'virtually real' is erasing all fine lines. No doubt, there are benefits with each invention that technology puts forth for a lot of thought and innovation goes into making them. However, to exercise restraint in use and keep check/control is a painstakingly difficult job. It is the need of the hour for when the reverie breaks it should not be hard for one to accept that what was on the plate all through was just plain rice and not biriyani.  

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lost in Translation? (Part 2)

It was quite right on my part that I decided to review the book "A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces" compiled by David Davidar in parts. The year 2015 was a tough one, I was unable to turn my attention away from my 3 year old son for a good part of it, bought a few books with a certain urge to read, however they lie piled up in my cane shelf untouched, my blog page too gathered dust with very few visits from me. My reading was hugely discontinuous and as a result this review post comes after a significant gap, it deals with what impressed me, what failed to in a new set of 11 stories from the book.

In the first part of the review,  I shared my opinion about the first 10 stories of the total 39 in the book (Part 1 of Review). In this set of 11 under discussion, 9 are translated works. For the sake of argument one may quote the "Ship of Theseus" concept, that the original with all its components replaced is not quite the original. However, the act of translation has only helped in unraveling some impeccable works of fiction and get me more acutely interested in Indian literature.

Stench of Kerosene by Amrita Pritam, translated from Punjabi by Khushwant Singh has a very commonplace premise - the terrific necessity of becoming a mother after wedlock for an Indian woman and the stigma associated in case of a failure. How this banal premise is woven into story of a married couple Manak and Guleri wins attention. I liked the translation done by Singh much more than his original work in this book.

Gold from the Grave by Anna Bhau Sathe, translated from Marathi to English by Vernon Gonsalves  narrates the tale of Bhima, a villager who moves to Mumbai in hope of a good pay packet and adequate food for his family, he works in a quarry and manages a decent living but its closure leaves him to hunt for gold in the ashes of corpses. The story dunked in irony deals with brutal reality of unemployment in big cities.

The Man Who Saw God by DBG Tilak, translated from Telugu by Ranga Rao is a simple tale, speaks volumes on benevolence and forgiveness and how through these qualities one actually sees the Almighty and not merely by reading scriptures and idling in temple premises.

Three stories down, good but passable, their content fit to be made into short films but none left a deep impact.

And then comes the interesting piece - the next short story - Inspector Matadeen on the Moon by Harishankar Parsai, translated from Hindi by C M Naim. The story is a fanciful account of Inspector Matadeen's trip to the Moon who makes his visit under the Cultural Exchange Scheme to represent India, the Government of Moon makes a written request to Government of India (which has an established Ram Rajya) on how despite being an advanced civilization, the police force is inefficient and requires help from fellow Indian policemen. Sounds preposterous, right? What unfolds is an excellent laugh riot, a satirical account so full of imagination that it unleashes life to the whole book. It is three cheers to the author for his sense of creativity and humor and bigger , many more cheers to the one who translated it for capturing the essence so well without hiccups, it is a task next to impossible. This story is a definite masterpiece. 

From humor and satire, one journeys to the other end of the literary spectrum to utter darkness, blatant reality and serious overtones in the story Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi, translated from Bengali to English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. The protagonist is a tribal woman, Draupadi Mejhen, referred to as Dopdi in the story (the Santhali name and not the Sanskrit one), the most notorious rebel in the villages of Jharkani forests. Straightforward account of Special Forces chasing tribal leaders, set against the backdrop of an Operation Bakuli in Bankura, Burdwan and Birbhum districts of Bengal, the operations' repercussions and the trail of destruction it leaves. The story takes the guise of a factual account, in some ways I felt I was watching snippets of the movie Bandit Queen.

Countless Hitlers (originally known as Alekhun Hitler) by Vijaydan Detha, translated from Rajasthani by Christi A Merrill and Kailash Kabir is another gem in the book. (One can read the full text of the story here) The story deals with five men, some younger, some older, all farmers, all cousins of near about the same stock, their trip to Jodhpur to buy a tractor, their speed adventure with a certain cyclist on the way back home and the picture they left behind them on the road. Not so simple as it sounds, an intense tale with a gripping narrative.

Mirror of Illusion (known as Maya Darpan in Hindi) by Nirmal Verma, translated from Hindi by Geeta Kapur deals with the extreme solitude a young, unmarried girl Taran faces living amidst her widower father, widowed aunt in a dismal house, she's always lost in reverie and nostalgia. There are hopes and aspirations for a cheerful life, better future outside but will Taran muster courage to get out like her brother did is what the story handles. Thsi emotion soaked tale was made into a movie way back in 1972.

Reflowering by Sundara Ramaswamy, translated from Tamil by S.Krishnan is a simple tale of how man is meekly replaced by machine at times. The protagonist Ibrahim Hassan Rowther does bills in a cloth shop, his mental arithmetic is lightning quick though he is not blessed with eyesight and this sharp mathematical acumen makes him indispensable to the business till one day a small machine takes his life by storm. How Rowther regains his lost ground in the shop and by what means forms the rest of the tale, uncomplicated but highly impressive.

Mouni by UR Ananthamurthy, translated from Kannada by HY Sharada Prasad is an account of lives of two men, rather two enemies in business, Bhavikere Kuppanna Bhatta and Sebinakere Appanna Bhatta, a simple, passable tale, though not rudimentary as the story of Ram and Shyam we read in our primary school, apt for recreation into an art movie and as mentioned in the epilogue it was made into a critically acclaimed movie in 2003.

Old Cypress by Nisha Da Cunha - the longest short story in the collection by far, packs highs and lows in itself. A deserted house in a hilly tea estate, mist laden overgrown garden,  an unused tennis court and an old cypress tree in a corner of the garden, a setting that sends you slouching in your chair as you begin, then the lives of a couple in early retirement who look to shift from Mumbai to this hill estate bungalow makes you sit erect for a while before the long, cumbersome paragraphs of many conversations weigh heavily upon your shoulders and send you slouching once more. Nothing remarkable in the tale except Raymond Carver's poem. (refer poem)

The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond, a favorite tale and a favorite author, both packed in one can only prove wonderful. The story is about how a pretty, blue silk umbrella changes the lives of a village girl Binya and an old shopkeeper Ram Bharosa. A beautiful tale set in the hills and Ruskin Bond's lucidity makes the reader feel one among Neelu, Gori, Bijju, Binya, Rajaram and Ram Bharosa, one among many simple souls living in the hills. A movie based on the story directed by Vishal Bharadwaj is a visual treat and quite faithful to the source.

These short stories form an eclectic blend, penned originally in different regional languages and English by some great minds, these carry abundant local flavor and an imprint of societal structure of that region. Eighteen more stories to go and this time I promise myself to get back fast for what possibly will be the last part of the book review. Happy New Year to all!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Lord Ganesha, coolest of all ..

Happy Ganesha Chathurthi to all ... the best part of the calendar year has begun :) 
I am all smiles, I always love this post-July part of the calendar year as the scorching summer season comes to an end, monsoon showers bring along the much needed respite from heat, fresh smell of earth and some chaos too, but above all, this part of the year is full of festivals and therefore HOLIDAYS!

Not much has changed over 8 years of my stay in Bangalore in a locality called New Tippasandra, we are nestled between quiet sectors of Geetanjali layout and the busy, bustling Tippasandra market. Starting from today for over a month, almost every street - narrow or wide will stage a pandal with a big and colorful idol of Lord Ganesha - celebrations galore!!

Just as I began my puja at home today, the song "Deva Sri Ganesha (guess from Agneepath movie) came blaring from the speakers from a nearby pandal. Kids were shouting Ganapathi Bappa Moriya, guess they had a competition on who is the loudest of all. The festive mood had just set in and then came the SHOCK - an abrupt transition and the song Tu Cheez Badi hai Mast Mast played in full volume. Anyone who watched the show Superhit Muqabla on DD would be aware of this chartbuster. Lord Ganesha, I must admit, is quite a mast mast god. He won a special mango after performing the act of circumambulation around his parents thrice when asked to go around the world the same number of times by Sage Narada, how cool is that?

Just as I tried to digest what I heard, the song changed to Chura Ke dil Mera, it seemed like people in the association who installed that pandal loved Akshay Kumar just as much as Lord Ganesha. According to common faith, Ganesha remains a bachelor, so whose hearts he stole remains a highly debatable question. 

I guess someone thought these songs were too old fashioned, a line of new Hindi songs, largely from the item numbers/party numbers subset are dished out in quick succession. One is highly fair as songs of this kind are played in all languages, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. The God gets a brief break from this musical discourse for few hours in the noon as he braces for the worst in the evening hours. 

Come evening time, post 6 pm, mini trucks carrying small time music troupes block the streets and traffic, these artists render their favorite songs for God and common man, they are accompanied by dancers dressed in bright, gaudy clothes who groove non-stop enthusiastically. Over years, my ears have got accustomed to these artists' favorite numbers - Nakku Mooku, Chikini Chameli, My Name is Sheela, Dont' worry Padmavathi, Aa ante Amalapuram, so on and so forth. Around 8/9 pm, smell of liquor begins to dominate the air around, this along with high decibel music, jarring colors and dance moves make the experience of seeing the Lord all so repulsive. 

However, year after year, Lord Ganesha stays calm, unruffled as all this farce unfolds in front of his eyes, he tolerates this chaos in name of celebrations without a single complaint. He remains as cool as a cucumber, drowns into deep filth of today's polluted lakes and rivers only to emerge with more smiles the next year. And he teaches us all the same -to remain calm and cool even in most testing times, be tolerant and endure pain/problems without complaints, doesn't he really do that?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lost in Translation?

Book Review: A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces - edited by David Davidar

A hard bound book containing 39 short stories from Indian authors spanning in time from the 19th century to the present, published by Aleph book company and priced at Rs 695 is what I decided to buy after reading about it in newspapers like The Hindu and Deccan Chronicle. I finished reading ten stories from this "clutch" about three months back, eight of which are translated works. I wanted to finish this book and then review it in a single blog post but that seems quite unlikely, the last few months have been filled with a multitude of activities that have hogged "my" time, been really hard to pay due attention to this or any book.

Today I happened to dust off the book's top cover and recollected few details of all stories I have read till now , I decided to pen down a portion of the complete review before it slips my mind.

The book begins with an elaborate preface titled Our Stories, talks at length about how David got hooked to books, he had the gift of literature from his grandfather who got him abridged versions of Western classics and his grandmother who narrated tales from local folklore, quite like us. In this section, he fervently looks for an apt definition for the term short story, there is actually none and places his trust in Anton Chekhov's (considered the father of modern short story) style/version. The book, according to him, includes stories that he loved, that made a mark on him in the last forty years of serious reading and he has arranged his favorites in chronological order based on author's date of birth.

The most important section of the preface deals with an important observation - how Indian literature is rich and diverse due to the country being multi lingual with 24 national languages (including English and Hindi) and the 2011 census registering 1635 mother tongues. There are a myriad storytellers in each language who created excellent works of literature and  left an indelible impression making the scene complex for an average book lover. That is where translation plays a key role in bringing unreachable volumes of best works to the reader's desk, opening access to otherwise incomprehensible stuff, imparting greater joy of reading and widening scope of appreciation. All said and done, an act of translation cannot guarantee every nuance, fine emotion or inkling in the original be reproduced without loss of meaning or clumsiness.

Most of us will agree to this since we encounter problems translating iconic dialogues or humorous moments while watching a movie in our mother tongue to English to help somebody who cannot understand it. It is much like a Is the glass half empty or half full? situation. The act of translation, however far from perfection, helps the onlooker to at least acknowledge the premise rather than completely drawing a blank. Quoting from the preface - "There's a musicality that underlies a book, and I think that if you can move that into English, you can catch it and you have got it".

The book starts with Rabindranath Tagore's The Hunger of Stones, translated from Bengali to English by Amitav Ghosh. The final translated work is impeccable, but a ghost story or anything supernatural from Tagore was least expected.

The Shroud (published as Kaffan) by Munshi Premchand, translated from Hindi by Arshia Sattar carries the stamp of realism, melancholy, irony blended in describing societal issues especially those faced by women set against rural/poor Indian background. His stories hit you hard and this one is no different.

A Horse and Two Goats (non translated) by RK Narayan comes as a refreshing change from sad overtones of the predecessor in the book. Brilliantly humorous, this story leaves you with a big smile.

A Life by Buddhadeva Bose translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha is a heart wrenching story, depicting toil of one man and his family, the account is engaging all through, easily the best of what I have read till now. This can be declared as a fine masterpiece. I am compelled to read more works of this author and have nailed down The Love Letter and Other stories - a compilation by the same author and translator for a future read.

Toba Tek Singh by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated from urdu by Khushwant Singh is a satirical work on India-Pakistan, the relations they shared right after partition, the story sends one in pensive mood.

The Flood written by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and translated from Malayalam by OV Usha is set in Kuttanad, a simple story that tells how man and animals behave differently in face of  natural calamity, leave s you with moist eyes even if you don't love pets.

The Blue Light by Vaikom Muhammad Basheer translated from Malayalam by OV Usha is enjoyable stuff. A man's tete-a-tete with a ghost in a haunted house could not have been dealt with more eloquently and beautifully.

The Somersault by Gopinath Mohanty translated from Oriya by Sitakant Mohapatra reveals what we do quite callously, propel someone to towering glory in wake of an achievement, stifle him/her with matchless reverence and then send them dashing to the ground in the first instance of defeat and erase them from memory as if they were non existent.

Khushwant Singh's Portrait of a Lady can be given an quick read. I have doubts if it should only appear in this collection.

Ismat Chughtai's Quilt translated from Urdu by R Jalil leaves one in shock for it is too bold a story in the times in which it was published (1942). The book ends with a note on stories, note on authors and note on translators in which it is mentioned the author was sued for obscenity by Lahore court for writing this story, she contested the case and won it rather than apologize. A hard smack, I must say, much like her story!

Only one story - The Life seemed extraordinary to me but I hope there are more and true masterpieces to come as I progress through the book. 8 of 10 are translated works and if you quiz me is the glass half full or empty, I would only say half-full. If not for translation, I wouldn't have been able to read works of Thakazhi, Vaikom and Ismat which have left a lasting impression and an urge to read more from their quarters. So was anything lost in translation? Hmmmm ... not really, I stood to gain (cheers)