Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Price of Wheat and Lentils...

We were at the Phoenix Market City mall shopping for Sid’s wedding when we decided to take a breather at Costa Coffee. Puja whipped 200 bucks from my wallet, and went for a cold coffee. Also get me a bottle of water, I told her. I did some quick math in my head – sixty bucks for the coffee, another ten for the water – so she should get back 130 bucks. To my horror, she returned with just ten bucks! Seeing my quizzical expression, she threw up her hands in the air – Pa, kis zamaane mein rehte ho, she asked. The coffee (since the simple `cold coffee’ of my college days is no longer available anywhere, she had got something with a french sounding name – latte or frappe or something of the kind) had cost Rs 155, and the water (a SMALL 500 ml bottle, mind you) Rs 35!

Thirty five bucks for half a litre of water, Jesus! Took me back to the shocker I faced at Ankara airport in Turkey in 2003, where a similar bottle cost, hold your breath, half a million Turkish lira (I kid you not!). I laboriously counted out the notes (with the great Kemal Ataturk’s face beaming at me from all of them) and handed them over. The guy handed them back, saying these were just 50,000 lira, what he wanted was an additional zero! The Turkish lira at the time was a joke – the cab from the airport to the hotel in Diyarbakir, a mere 2 Km away, cost us 4 million lira! The cab meter was as long as my arm just to accommodate all those zeros! I believe some sense finally prevailed on the Turks, and they revalued their currency by knocking off SIX ZEROS!!

The kids wanted to book tickets for `The Dark Knight Rises’. Using her iPhone and MY Credit Card, Puja booked the tickets as were on our way back – in a jiffy, from the back seat of the car! The cost of four tickets? A cool twelve hundred bucks! Seriously??  I could have bought the Bluray, seen it again n again on my Home Theatre, and STILL have the damn thing!

The special (butter) masala dosa at Vaishali, which cost less than five bucks in my Fergusson days, is now approaching the three figure mark! Samosas at Karachi’s (served with their most delectable chutney) now cost 12 bucks a piece!

Which brings me to Lahore in Pakistan. Apparently, samosas are consumed with great relish by Pakistanis around the year, but the sales skyrocket during Ramazan as it is a staple of the Iftar spread. The City District Government of Lahore had fixed the price of samosas at Rs 6 apiece, and magistrates imposed fine on shopkeepers for selling them at a higher price.  The Punjab Bakers and Sweets Federation had challenged this order at the time, but the Lahore High Court had dismissed the petition. The petitioner then appealed to the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the LHC ruling, and had it overturned! My reaction – La haul vila kuwat! Do the courts in Pakistan, including the Supreme Court, have nothing better to do? Also, if a Karachi’s samosa in Poona costs 12 bucks, which is about 20 Pakistani rupees, then I wonder what the filling of the 6 rupee samosa in Lahore contained!!

This morning, I studiously checked up the prices of wheat and lentils in Poona – so I can no longer be accused of not knowing the `attay-daal ka bhaav’!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Puja and her Bollywood blues!

I guess the fault is really mine. She was barely a few months old when we took her to see her first movie. In the crisp Delhi winters of 1976, we wrapped her up in a blanket, and trooped off to the open air theatre at Delhi Cantt’s Vaughn Club (is it still around, anyone?). Where we screwed up big time was in the choice of movie. Well, there wasn’t any choice really, only the biggest duds from Bollywood found their way to the club. This time it was `Kehte hain mujh ko Raja’ with Biswajeet in a double role, AND directing the movie!

Now Biswajeet, poor guy could barely ham a single role effectively – this was an unmitigated disaster! An aside here. I ran into Biswajeet at Delhi airport a few years ago, and like me he was sporting Aviator dark glasses. However, unlike me, he had lost almost all his hair, and was tad shorter, and more fragile. I pointed him out to the youngsters who were with me, and they were understandably sceptical that this frail guy had once been a matinee idol. “Sir, you look much better!” they assured me – but that was only because Appraisal season was just around the corner.

But back to the Vaughn Club. The attraction of fauji open air theatres is the charm of watching Mumtaz do her thing while you sipped your rum and coke (yes, one hadn’t migrated to whisky by then). But my little daughter, all of four months old, all wrapped up in her blanket didn’t take her eyes off the screen even for a second. If some `uncle’ or `aunty’ crossed her path and blocked her view, she’d let out a wail they could hear in Ambala! Otherwise for the two and a half hours, she was quiet as a mouse, feed forgotten, soother discarded, as she gazed at the two Biswajeets in rapt and adoring attention!

 Fast forward to Jhansi, 1984. The Los Angeles Olympics coincided with the setting up of a Doordarshan station at Jhansi fort. Colour TV (Konark Rainbow Deluxe, with a Grundig kit), and the VCR (National Panasonic G-12) invaded our lives, and what a world they opened up! The only VHS tapes we had were `Ghulami’ and `Batwara’. My daughter, who was around 8 years by now, soon knew both the movies by heart! Today, in 2012, she STILL quotes from these movies – when her hubby demanded only mineral water at a restaurant, she did her best Dimple Kapadia imitation “Pani toh pani hovay hai thakur saab!”.

Puja has inherited this trait from my mother, who could (and DID) watch `Nagmani’ more frequently than I care to remember, without letting us fast forward even the ads! My lasting regret is that my mom didn’t live long enough to see my state-of-the-art home theatre – but I guess she lives in my daughter who, at any given time, accompanies her `doing her nails’ to the re-screening of Hindi movies of the 70’s and 80’s. Absolute low brow stuff like `Ghar Sansar’, `Naseeb Apna Apna’ and the like.

“Don’t blame me, she says – you started me off with Kehte hain mujh ko Raja!” Why, oh why didn’t I take her for `Lawrence of Arabia’ instead??

And Mummy, was this the ONLY trait you could have gifted your grand daughter? Come to think of it, she also gifted her an extremely nervous (am being kind here) digestive system – lekin woh kissa phir kabhi!!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

At Arbil that fateful February...

I did a stint in Iraq in 2004 immediately after the Second Gulf War, as a Project Manager for a Telecom Infrastructure company, setting up a fledgling mobile communication network. 

I happened to be in Arbil in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) when, in a double suicide attack on Eid-ul-zuha day on 2nd Feb 2004, the offices of the two main political parties (Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) were simultaneously attacked by suicide bombers, killing a total of 117 people. The bombers had come to `celebrate' Eid, and blew themselves up as they were embracing/kissing the party chiefs, as is the custom.

I happened to be in the vicinity of the KDP office that day, and saw first hand the devastation that occurred. 57 people died in that office. Since I was with a British engineer, we were mistaken as being part of the BBC crew, and were allowed into the building. The scene was ghastly, and is forever imprinted in memory. The following lines were written that day...

Death, be not proud
That day you came treacherously
Like a traitor, with a Judas kiss

A single death is tragedy
A broken home, a shattered dream
Senses numbed, paralysis….

Fifty seven deaths are a statistic
A news item, a TV report
Political hues, conspiracy…

And yet in this rubble, I see
Scattered among the broken glass
Buried under the falling bricks…

Fifty seven homes destroyed forever
Fifty seven dreams that died still born
Don’t talk of causes, not to me….

Man has learnt to swim like a fish
To fly like a bird, to soar the skies
But when, my Lord, will he ever learn
To walk on earth like a real man….

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Happy Birthday, Sowmya!

Now that D-Day comes with time
Unto a bond that will not shear
Let us forget all that you fear
And keep the sinful and sublime..

The past’s a bridge that will not burn
But if remorse, with gentle touch
Should stir memories overmuch
Remember - there is more to learn..

Need I recount what you have won
The love, the tenderness, the gifts
That mark your journey’s eager shifts
Treasures that cannot be undone..

Nothing I say that’s not been said
You’ve come thus far, all safe n sound
Now set your sails for shores unbound
And revel in what lies ahead

If in recounting this, I sound
Upbeat and gung-ho, I must plead
The knowledge that one day indeed
Your destiny, you’ll say you’ve found

Unattainable, a grace
Not from this world, you do possess
So step forward, and let God bless
You, as you two embrace..

H  Y   B I R T H  D A Y ,  S O W M Y A !!!!

PS - Sowmya is all set to join the family in Sep - and this is my version of an `open arms' welcome..

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Hindi hain hum...

The Pakistanis are a worried lot. This time it’s the infusion by stealth of `our’ shudh Hindi into `their’ paak Urdu. Our Kareena Kapoor is `sundar’ (she isn’t, but go along with me here), while their Veena Malik is `khoobsurat’ (again, she isn’t but...).   Check out this clip from a light hearted talk show they have called Hasb-e-Haal, where even the otherwise hilarious Azizi laments this `cultural invasion’. As if to get even, they are now pressing for the airing of Pak channels in India (a long overdue step, to be dealt with in a later post).

I am with the Pakistanis here. In fact, I have for long lamented the infusion of shudh Hindi into saral Hindi. Ask any villager in any part of India why he wishes to educate his kid, and he will tell you “Padh likh ke daaktar ya injiniyar ban jaye”.  Apparently, everybody and his aunt know what an injinayar is except the Govt of India, who insists that the correct term for engineer is `abhiyanta’! I once went looking for the office of the Executive Engineer in DESU’s Mayapuri office in Delhi. I passed it three times, till someone pointed out the board - `Adhishasi Abhiyanta’ – this to someone who even the linemen and peons of DESU call `X-EN’ – ok, AXE-EN since it’s Delhi.. 

Vinod Khanna once remarked that the Hindi News Bulletins over All India Radio were not really `Hindi mein samachar’ but `Samachar mein Hindi’! The one reason why Hindi can never truly become our national language is that it is so far removed from spoken Hindustani as to render it a non starter. If I, as a learned person can’t follow the Hindi being used officially, what of the educationally challenged?  If at all Hindi or Hindustani has made any headway south of the Vindhyas, we have only Bollywood to thank, and not any government initiative.

Languages need to be inclusive in case they are to grow and flourish. English liberally opens its doors to words like chai (tea), charpoy, bandobust and so on – why can’t Hindi call an engineer an injiniyar? In the Army, we had a day in the week called the `Hindi Day’ where all official work was to be carried out in Hindi – my Head Clerk was a Keralaite, so you can imagine how THAT went...

With the number of languages and dialects in India in the hundreds, the already acute problem is further exacerbated by idiots making it an emotional issue. If our country can be India in English, Bharat in Hindi and Hindustan in Urdu, why can’t we have Bombay in English, Bambai in Hindi and Mumbai in Marathi??

All regional languages need to be junked as a first step – but that opens up a new line of thought – woh kissa phir kabhi!!