Monday, August 29, 2005

why insomnia isn't good for you

agar 'subah ka sapna hamesha sach hota hai', as hindi movie mother are apt to say, then we are in trouble - because i've just had the king of all weird dreams, just before waking up -

i don't remember the plot, but it's vaguely peter pan meets harry potter meets recreational drugs in vaguely indira nagar, lucknow - where i lived as a child.

a bunch of crusading teenagers surreptitiusly spread the word around, and children and parents gradually become converts to the cause - the cause being a vague and unspecifed threat, combated by taking manukka - my favourite bhang derivative... and starting to float, literally

(If you're reading this, mom, it is just a dream!)

one shot i remember (yes, i am afraid to admit, my mind is so colonized i dream cinematically ) is of a toby stephens lookalike sitting down to a very english high tea and saying, 'gosh, this tastes awful', and then spreading marmlade over it and ingesting neverthless....

i woke up just before the dream became a frantic balloon race of adults filled with wonder (and not hot air for once) jostling up in the sky....

of course, the dream i had BEFORE that was far more likely, but I's rather not believe that. That had my teeth falling off in front of certain notable authors, and turning out to be rather green and diseased looking on close examination...

moral of the story -
sleeping at 4 am and waking up at 7.30 is not good for anything except the writing of sci fi/fantasy novels. right, samit?

insomniac at the railway station

sleight of hand and twist of fate
that a guy who wakes up at six and ideally goes to bed by ten gets to write a column called insomniac.
so once a month, in the grand tradition of majaz, i wander forlorn and jobless through the nights of the city, excpet that this is work.
you've already read me at gb road. here's me at old delhi railway station - with all the spelling mistakes and general arbitness the editors of city limits will cut out...

Doggerel doesn't let go - Ten o' clock and the station rocks. Outside Old Delhi Railway Station dates fake watches leather belts shoes tongas bus rides to Jaipur.

Coolies line up at the entrance, jostling into a single file just like in Coolie. A thousand licensed porters they say but there's no work, all the trains diverted to New Delhi and Nizamuddin and Sarai Rohilla. No Rajdhani or Shatabdis, and just five 'mails'. Two hundred porters to be transferred. Between eleven and four, no trains depart, except the 'locals' – Shahdara, Nizamuddin, Palwal, Ghaziabad...

A touchscreen PNR assistance machine. The coolies see no people but hundreds sleeping. A puppet horse glitters among the sea of snores. The station starts at Platform 16. Each platform so long that it's actually two. On platform 8 the guard tries to wave the Kalka Mail off. the train moves twenty feet and halts. Guard stalks in fury up length of train muttering into his walkie talkie. Can't find anyone looking supicious enough to pull the chain and gets into his cabin still muttering and the train departs. A one legged ragpicker stomps along the tracks. The magazine stads shut down, and the tea and snacks kiosk guy pulls cardboard and gunny sack from under the nearest bench and stretches out. The train from Ghaziabad comes in, a forlorn battered version of the Bombay locals – which wouldn't have so few people at eleven thirty, and so many of those few sleeping.

The chai walahs move their heavy carts loaded with gas cylinders onto lifts which go down beneath the platforms. What willl you do going down there? It's dirty, don't say anything to me if you fall sick. the lift trundles down into a long tubelit passage which connects all the platforms – heavy goods move under. It's hot even near midnight, the heat trapped in the stale subterranean air.

The station is haunted by puppet horses. I see them boarding trains, on footbridges, entering the station, everywhere. All of these horses that you chase around... are lyrics from the Wallflower's song Invisible City. The Kaifiyat Express leaves for Azamgarh, only train named for a poet? A woman lifts her ghagra and pees off the edge of the platform. The train for Rohtak stands empty in its siding, people slumber beside, atop huge bales of freight. Parathas and sabzi cooking well past midnight as others play cards, and talk. No one disturbed by the hooting of locos but sntaches of song and dance from over the wall elicit abuse. A shiv mandir built into the side of a platform means the only clean patch of tracks in the whole staion.

Near the entrance I see myself on a high TV, caught live on surveillance cam. I weigh 76 kilos. In a lonely airconditioned room, a cop sits in front of a bank of CCTV monitors, spending the night watching 16 channles of reality TV. Will the horses haunt his dreams?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

3 am

On top of the fridge
Entranced by moths
In love with the light

Thursday, August 18, 2005

(not quite) visual pleasure and narrative cinema

am writing a paper on multiplexes in/around delhi right now -
some of my source material -

From the Times of India, February 21, 1998
Constable held, suspended for masturbating on woman
A city police constable was arrested and suspended from service after he was accused of trying to outrage the modesty of a woman, who was watching a film inside the Anupam PVR hall in Saket, on Thursday night. Constable Manohar Lal, attached to the Malviya Nagar Police Station, was apparently sitting in a row right behind the woman, who was watching the night show of the film Bada Din with a friend, when he made the attempt.
…“I have never heard of a horrible act like this, where a man and that, too, a police official, masturbates on a woman while watching a film,” the woman said, adding she was not satisfied with his mere suspension.
… Anupam PVR officials said they were helpless in preventing such incidents in their hall, “Till the time the order which forces us to sell 20 percent of our tickets for Rs 5 is not taken back, these problems will continue,” a company official said. He said all kinds of people have been entering the hall because of the “extremely subsidised” rate of tickets that have to be sold…
As a counterpart to that, a story from an older cinema, now closed, Eros, where the soft porn morning show fascinated friend Kai Friese much -

from Delhi City Limits, August 2005 -

I knew I had found a fugitive, feral, cultural space of film buffs and buff films, of the ludic and the lewd. of common knowledge and Gupt Gyan. And I knew it couldn't last. In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucalt tells us that the Greeks considered masturbation "a thing for slaves and satyrs, but not for citizens". And so it was in Delhi - One morning I looked up from my cinematic stupor to relaise that the aisles were being patrolled by lathi-weilding guardians, looking for KLs to PD. Policing Eros. When the apna haath of the demos meets the juggernaut of morality and capital, it's really no contest...

Monday, August 15, 2005

i'm in luck, now

just back from lucknow.

a city that i have found more forbidding and forlorn every time i've visited before, since leaving, but not this time.

this time lucknow looked really beautiful.

maybe because i was staying ten minutes away from hazratganj, and its beautiful art deco cinemas.

maybe because behind and beside new buildings, old, gracious british-mughal hybrids, so characteristic of old lucknow, keep peeking out.

maybe because i did a two hour presentation on the 'represenation of muslims in hindi cinema' in the city that, as mukul kesavan puts it, 'is the spiritual home of hindi cinema'.

maybe because i saw 'the rising' in the august company of one of the stars... (well, he had as much screen time as amisha patel...)

maybe because the day after seeing the rising, i was exploring the british residency, under siege in 1857-58.

maybe because i met my first real life Afghan hound...

maybe because aminabad looks so beautiful in the sodium light when you're a little high, and someone else is driving the rickshaw...

maybe becuase everyone i was staying with trashed me in my favourite sport, four letter boggle.

maybe becuase the traffic is so damn awful, i actually look forward to getting back to dodging death on delhi roads...

now i really want to go back....

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

work in progress - maps, poetry

Naksha utha ke koi naya sheher dhoondiye
Is sheher main to sab se mulakat ho gayi.

Pick up a map and look for some new city
In this town, everyone’s already been met.

For me, reading Nida Fazli is like walking gingerly through an unmarked minefield with a hangover. A well written sh’er is a killer couple of lines, packed with enough resonant metaphors and allusions to explode like a bomb, shifting the paradigmatic ground from under the reader’s feet. And Fazli is the master bomb maker. He has a special trick up his sleeve, this most reflective of poets. He looks at his experiences and feelings as if at battle scars in a polished full length mirror. Then he shatters the mirror and packs the pieces in as shrapnel. And the next time a disaffected, angst filled ‘sensitive’ city dweller, someone like your or me, hears a song on the radio, turns a page in a book, they don’t know what’s hit them. It feels like being mugged in the most familiar of streets, like waking up to be told you have no legs to stand on. But before you are blinded by the brilliance of the explosion, before the sharp slivers slice through your pretensions, you look into the mirror shards, and see a reflection of your own self you haven’t seen before.

The two lines at the beginning, a terse command, were the sudden eloquent realization of a feeling that had been gnawing wordlessly for years. The feeling that in a city, officially or unofficially, of well over ten million people, the few hundred I was likely to meet in all my time here were, in a sense, pre-ordained. That all my friends, acquaintances, lovers; everyone I converse with and/or drink with; I knew in my first years in the city, or are their friends. We bump into each other in the University, in Barista, at book launches at the British Council and films at Siri Fort, over drinks at Def Col, and occasionally even when slumming at the Nizamuddin Dargah…

Our paths cross so predictably, our city is so small. A friend is obsessed with the idea of ego-centric maps – a map of the world imagined with yourself as its centre. I have wandered this city much, but my map of Delhi still has huge swathes of grey; beyond Patparganj there be dragons.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Jugni jaa varhi ajj Dilli
Uther bhir 'ch rul ke bhulli
Kithon aai kithey challi
Sab visar gaya...

Jadon aaya usnu cheta
Tan si mukhiya usda vela
Veer meriya ve jugni kendi aa
Ajj naam Guran da laindi aa

Jugni blazed into Delhi
Where she forgot in the crowd
Where she came from or where she was going
All was forgotten...

When she came to her senses
Her time was up
Jugni says, my brother
I take the Guru's name.
- Rabbi Shergill, Jugni

Do you remember 1984? Harneet Singh does.
And in a very small insignificant way, so do I.
My father and his colleagues, including a sardarji I knew as Sangha uncle, were returning from Barabanki to Lucknow, late in the evening, in a company van.
Stones shattered the car's windows.
They'd seen Sangha uncle's turban.

It's about twenty kilometres from Barabanki to Lucknow. Sangha uncle spent most of it lying on the floor of the van.

In Delhi, yesterday, site of the worst of the Anti-Sikh rioting after Indira Gandhi's death, 1984 was remebered, and we were asked to forget. Again.

Cong buries the Sikh massacre again

NEW DELHI, AUGUST 8: Twenty years after hundreds of Sikhs were massacred in the Capital, a judicial inquiry has for the first time given a finding that Congress leaders were involved in it.

The Justice G T Nanavati Commission, which was set up in 2000 to undo the ‘‘whitewash’’ by the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission in 1986, has indicted, among others, a minister in the Manmohan Singh Government, Jagdish Tytler, and Congress MP from the Outer Delhi constituency, Sajjan Kumar.

But, having waited till the last permissible day to table the Nanavati Commission’s report in Parliament, the Government today rejected the finding against Tytler on a ground that is bound to trigger a legal controversy.

The Commission concluded that there was ‘‘credible evidence against Jagdish Tytler to the effect that very probably he had a hand in organizing attacks on Sikhs.’’

In its action taken report (ATR), the Government however interpreted these carefully chosen words to mean that ‘‘the Commission itself was not absolutely sure about his involvement in such attacks.’’

And then, turning Indian jurisprudence on its head, the Government claimed that ‘‘in criminal cases, a person cannot be prosecuted simply on the basis of ‘probability.’’

This flies in the face of the fact that cases are registered—and even charges are framed—on the basis of probability. It is only at the stage of conviction does the system insist upon charges being proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Brushing aside the Commission’s recommendation to look into the allegations against Tytler and ‘‘take further action as may be found necessary,’’ the Government said that ‘‘any further action will not be justified.’’

Which political part in India now has any moral right to critique anyone else?
When the Congress attacked the BJP about Gujarat, most of the BJP's answer was - and what about Delhi, 1984? Now of course, the BJP has been 'subdued' in their reaction in Parliament. Presumably becuase they know they'll be countered by - and what about Gujarat?

And i know that sending Jagdish Tytler and HKLBhagat to jail, twenty one years after the riots, in not going to right a single wrong, or bring back a single life - but what about justice?

What about acknowledging that the stae had a hand in what it did to its own people?

What about a public apology?

The only thing anyone who suffered in '84 could have hoped from this commision and its report was that the truth be told, that the violence done to them would be rememberedby the nation-state, and not casually, brutally erased - from records, from memory.

Sab visar gaya... All was forgotten...

Dilli ka apna Orpheus

One part of a mental map of CP – Haggle at Janpath, fortify yourself by drinking cold coffee at DePaul's, walk along the mirrored Jeevan Bharti building looking at the weird reflections, pause in the subway leading from Jeevan Bharti to N-Block (Wimpy's) to listen to the bansuri waala.

Balbir Kumar has been selling flutes in CP since 1982, in the subway for the past ten years, and his distinctive playing echoing off the walls of the subway has become a landmark for many. Even to standard Hindi film tunes he gives his own distinctive twist. Most people just walk by, but those who stop to listen open strange doors. Balbir has played in jazz clubs in Holland and Germany for three years, without ever reading the sheet music.

He came back because he couldn't take the 'fast life'. Back to playing music in increasingly noisy CP, and occasionally selling flutes. And continued to touch people's lives, even those who only slowed down momentarily to hear him. Gulshan Kumar wanted to bring out an album, but then he got bumped off. Then one hot summer day in 1998, a Danish musicologist called Gunnar Muhlmann (there's an umlaut on the U) heard him in the subway, recorded him in a small hotel room, and took the music back to Denmark. He came back next year, wanting to make an album.

Now Balbir is forty nine and in poor health, and not seen in the subway as often as he'd like to be. He's going to be in and out of hospital for a few months. Meanwhile Music Today has brought out Gunnar and Balbir's album called 'Delhi' as part of their Amazing India series.

Meanwhile, Balbir still sits in the subway. Orpheus to our truncated under-worlds.

Friday, August 05, 2005

random pirate confession

Once upon a time, in my misspent youth,
Dhoomketu, Marcus and I stole many books from the
International Book Fair at Pragati Maidan.
We preferred to think of it as liberation.

A fantasy lingers on since then -
There is a book I've written on display prominently at the book fair.
I pick one of them up from the shelves, admire my name on the cover, and slip it under my jacket.
A guard catches me, takes me to the stall owner.

Then I smile beningnly at both of them and say,
'What do you mean stealing? This is MY book...'
and then watch the bewildered array of reactions crossing their faces in quick and confused succession...

now, if only there was a book...

to parody Ghalib -

Humne maana ke sapne dekhna laazim hai
Par jab kitab hi na likhi, toh churaenge kya?


delhi. bombay. auto. rains.

one of a series of strange/wonderful conversations i've been having with autorickshaw drivers in delhi last month -

- aaj to dhanda hi kharaab ho gaya. itni baarish mein koi niklega hi nahin.
- par kam se kam garmi to khatam hui.
- arre itne main garmi khatam kahaan hogi. uske liye to poore ek din
baarish hone padegi. dhanda kharrab hoga par theek se thanda to hoga.
- poore din baarish hui to kahin mumbai waala haal to naheen ho jaayega?
- mumbai waala haal ho to accha hai. sab saale dilli chhod ghar bhag
jaayenge. dilli khaali ho jaayegi.

a long pause, some conversation about why bihar hasn't seen floods this
year, but bombay has. then -
- aap kahaan se hain?
- mathura.

translation -

- this has just ruined business today. who's going to travel in this rain?
- but at least the heat's gone down.
- oh, this won't end the heat. for that it needs to rain for one full day. business will be ruined but at least it will cool down properly.
- if it rains all day we might have a Mumbai like situation.
- a Mumbai like situation would be good. Everyone will leave Delhi and run away home. Delhi will be empty.

a long pause, some conversation about why bihar hasn't seen floods this
year, but bombay has. then -
- where are you from?
- mathura.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

the situation is tense but under control

'the situation is tense...'
'two communities have clashed in East Delhi...'

it was a long time since i'd heard the ominous cliche that serves as callous shorthand for the aftermath of a riot - 'the situation is tense, but under control'.

last night, while trying to catch the highlights of the india-sri lanka match, i heard it on one of the news channels -
a riot had broken out in east delhi, in trilokpuri, with clashes between kanwarias and people from a local mosque. the situation was tense, but under control, with heavy police deployment.

the indian express and HT did not report the incident this morning.

I grew up in sleepy small town on the outskirts of Delhi. The town was called
Gurgaon, not the steel-glass, futuristic, suburbia of today but a small town
where everyone knew everyone else and life was basically rural with
pretensions of urbanity owing to its proximity to the metropolis.
Entertainment consisted of taking a walk in the Sadar Bazaar or the Civil
Lines and for the well to do, a Sunday excursion to Connaught Place in the

We had a house on the road which came from Delhi and went to Jaipur and
beyond. In the months of July-august, or more accurately in the month of
Sawan, one would come across an exhausted villager, carrying a bamboo pole
with two pitchers of water on each end. The traveler would look extremely
exhausted, typically traveling bare feet, with huge ulcers on his feet. One
would watch this with curiosity and was told that these are people who,
because some wish of theirs had been fulfilled, are carrying the holy water
of Ganga from Haridwar to a Shiva temple, somewhere in Rajasthan. The
important thing was that the pitchers did not touch the ground till they
reach their destination and the water is offered to the Shiva Linga at the
temple. The travelers, called Kanwarias ( from the word Kanwar for the
pitcher) were watched with a mixture of awe and pity but no particular

A few weeks ago, I read in the newspapers that this year Haridwar is expecting
some 25 Lakh Kanwarias! Almost a mini-Kumbha Mela! For the last few years, I
have seen the numbers of Kanwarias increase hugely. Not only is their number
more, the character of the people, their appearance also seems to have
undergone a tremendous change. Now we find them, wearing walking shoes,
headbands with appropriate religious slogans, red T-shirts with pictures of
Shiva printed and various other accessories. The accessories, like the
reversing horns in some Maruti Cars which have a synthetic voice saying Jai
Mata Di, are of the kind which one typically finds when technology meets
small town India!

 for over a week now,  the newspapers i read have been increasingly apprehensive about the Kanwarias. This, for example, came out in Hindustan Times, July 20. The kanwarias, are seen as lumpen, disrutpive, prone to violence, and worst of all from a Delhi driver's point of view - they block traffic!  Observe this report from the Times of India, where murder seems like a lesser misdemeanour than causing traffic jams.

NEW DELHI: Stay away from the men in orange -- that seems to be the general sentiment about kanwarias while they are travelling through Delhi each year. And Sunday's incident of kanwarias murdering a man in Ghaziabad since they "thought" he had misbehaved with a woman of their clique, just reinforces the anxiety about them.

The venue of 'action' shifted to Delhi on Monday, when they stopped traffic at Peeragarhi in west Delhi for almost an hour. TimesCity traces the routes they take within the city and the problems that accompany them.

A senior police official said that the police take extra precautions while making arrangements since they have created trouble in the past -- there was a riot-like situation in Rajokri on NH-8 where they burnt cars after one kanwaria was hit by a car a few years ago. Roadblocks, especially on main roads are common. Even on Monday, kanwarias did not allow traffic to move at Peeragarhi in west Delhi for almost an hour. They also pelted stones at all the buses that crossed the area after one kanwaria was hit by a bus. He sustained minor injuries.

the rise of the hi-tech kanwaria, is an example of the communal mobilization through mass media technology that happened in india, early eighties onwards, that Peter Manuel wrote so eloquently about. The riot, the tense situation unreported, was sort of inevitable, then.
what shouldn't catch me by the surprise, but does, is the mainstream englsih media's sudden far and loathing of the kanwaria - those embarassing hicksters with their violent ways, who block the roads of a city trying so hard to be 'global'.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

meatless days

just read this, in today's paper

AHMEDABAD, AUGUST 2: They have won the legal battle to keep meat shops open during the eight-day Jain holy period of Paryushan, but for the sake of communal harmony, butchers in the city have decided to down shutters during that period.

‘‘We welcome the high court verdict that it is illegal for the authorities to enforce closure of our shops during Paryushan. But like every year, this year too we will not conduct any business during the period,’’ said Mustaq Syed, who owns the Star Meat Shop and five slaughter-houses.

The Qureshi Jamaat, an organisation of traditional butchers and slaughterers, has appealed to meat shop owners to respect Jain sentiments and keep their shops closed.

‘‘It’s a request, and we hope everyone agrees to it,’’ says Rafiq Qureshi, who is associated with the Jamaat.

Muslim leaders say the 2002 violence has made them realise that much ill-will and misunderstanding is created when people of one religion do not respect the beliefs of others.

‘‘The gap is tremendous. We have to bridge it with trust, respect and love,’’ says Rizwan Ahmed, who heads an informal committee of meat shop owners.

‘‘This is why we have asked all meat dealers to stop business for the eight days when Jains fast and meditate for self-purification.’’

Some 200 meat shops in Ahmedabad will remain closed even if it means losses. Most butchers and meat shop owners are poor or belong to the middle class.

‘‘Our community does not have deep pockets. People spend their earnings the same day,’’ says Ahmed. ‘‘Eight days of keeping shops closed means financial problems. But we are now used to it.’’

On a demand from the Jains, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has since 1993 been ordering slaughter-houses and meat shops to remain closed during Paryushan, observed around the third week of September.

In 1997 it ordered the closure for 18 days and this had caused much hardship to butchers.

But the butchers had never challenged the order in court, partly because there’s a flourishing illegal trade in meat. Ban or not, non-vegetarians are by and large able to get their daily share.

Last month, however, voluntary group Lok Adhikar Sangh filed a petition challenging the municipal order in Gujarat High Court.

It said the order interfered with the people’s right to trade, livelihood and liberty. The court ruled that the order was unconstitutional.

This created a stir in the Jain community. Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia has been meeting Jain saints to discuss the implications of the order while the community has appealed to the meat shop owners to respect their sentiments.

‘‘It’s against our religion to see animals butchered during those days. We pray and meditate for purifying our thoughts and lifestyle. Non-violence is essential for it,’’ says Sadhvi Rajprabha of the Sthanakvasi Jain community.

Now that many butchers have voluntarily decided to keep their shops closed, the Jains are moving to ensure that the poor among them do not suffer.

‘‘We know they suffer losses and respect their decision to keep shops shut despite the court order,’’ says Trilok Muni of the Jain Sangh. ‘‘We are finding out a way to compensate those who will be put to hardship.’’

Says Rishab Jain of the Jain Mahasangh of Gujarat: ‘‘They should not think this is charity. We aren’t giving anything in charity. The Muslims are respecting our religious sentiments and we in turn want to help them, out of gratitude.’’

I am not very optimistic about Gujarat, usually, but this gives me some hope. For one, it left Praveen Togadia without an issue to scream about. For another, it harkened back to older traditions of tolerance - In Delhi, during the early nineteenth century for instance, when the Mughals were still nominally on the throne - it was forbidden to slaughter cows for Bakr-Id. I am also glad that unconstitutional majoritarian dadagiri of the Gujarat administration has been exposed, even if in small measure. And that the understanding is now between communities, with the state having nothing to do with it. Which, in an ideally anarchic world, is the way things should be.
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